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Georgian diplomat admits guilt in fatal crash

October 9, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A diplomat from the Republic of Georgia pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges growing from a car crash that killed a Maryland teen-ager and sparked international debate about diplomatic immunity.

Gueorgui Makharadze, 36, the embassy’s second-ranking officer, could face up to 70 years in prison on one charge of involuntary manslaughter and four counts of aggravated assault. D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold Cushenberry ordered him held without bond until sentencing Dec. 19, saying the diplomat had shown a callous disregard for others.

``I take full responsibility for what happened,″ Makharadze told the judge.

Witnesses told police Makharadze was weaving in and out of traffic at speeds up to 85 mph on Jan. 3 when his car crashed into a line of cars at a stoplight at a busy downtown intersection.

Prosecutors have said Makharadze had a blood alcohol level of at least .15 at the time of the five-car crash. The legal limit in Washington is .10.

Jovianne Waltrick, 16, of Kensington, Md., who was in one of the cars, was killed and four people were injured.

Although he was protected from prosecution because of his diplomatic status, Makharadze’s government waived immunity so he could face the charges.

In ordering Makharadze held without bond, Cushenberry cited two earlier incidents involving the diplomat, who had been charged in April 1996 with speeding in Virginia and detained four months later by District of Columbia police but released after claiming diplomatic immunity.

Tedo Japaridze, Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, called the judge’s decision shocking.

``His incarceration without bond seems extreme ..., especially since the U.S. government did not oppose his continued release after he acknowledged his guilt,″ Japaridze said.

Defense attorney Lawrence Barcella told reporters that Makharadze ``should not become the poster child for all the pent-up aggression that people have about diplomats and drunk driving.″

Viviane Wagner, mother of the dead teen-ager, has waged a crusade since the accident against abuses of diplomatic immunity.

``My daughter will not come back,″ she said Wednesday. ``But it’s been worth the fight because immunity is not impunity.″

One of the survivors of the crash, Patricia McQueen, said immunity is not intended ``to protect them from marauding down busy city streets.″ Since the accident, she added, ``It’s been nine months of an overwhelming feeling that Mr. Makharadze did not understand what he had done.″

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