Skuodas tragedy throws spotlight on police

  • 2007-11-21
  • By Kimberly Kweder

SHATTERED LIVES: Lithuania boasts the single worst driving record in the EU. Road deaths have recently been on the rise – between Nov. 9 and 15, 16 people were killed and 151 injured on Lithuanian roads. Harsher legislation is finally being introduced to crack down on the unfortunate trend.

VILNIUS - With the nation still outraged over a Nov. 8 traffic accident in Skuodas in which an off-duty police officer killed three 10-year-old boys and fled the scene, police effectiveness and behavior have come under close scrutiny.
The officer involved, Saulius Paulikas, has been detained pending an investigation. 

"The investigation is in full-speed, and prosecutors are doing as much as they can. They are all applying the terms and doing as much as possible," said Vilija Galdikiene, spokeswoman for the Skuodas prosecutor's office.
Interior Minister Raimondas Sukys, who last week tendered his resignation over the incident, has asked the Prosecutor General's Office to monitor the Skuodas investigation, as requested by the victims' families.
The nation's police commissioner general also resigned over the incident.
Publicity surrounding the tragedy has brought to light the high number of traffic accidents caused by police themselves. In a strange parallel, Paulikas' father killed an elderly woman and injured a girl in his own car accident in 2002. No pretrial investigation or appeal was made after the event.

In the 10 months before the Nov. 8 tragedy, 287 traffic violations were committed by police officers. In 16 of those cases, the officers were convicted and lost their jobs.
A traffic police employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, gave The Baltic Times his insight into Lithuanian police practices.
"I don't know if we have good discipline for police," he said. "On the other hand, I can say all police officers come into the police staff promising to be good, loyal civilized officers. But of course, it is based more or less of the mentality of each police officer."
Most of the traffic offenses caused by police were a result of the officers driving under the influence, said the traffic police employee.

"We are talking about it [alcohol issues] each day. I think police, local headquarters and police chiefs are talking about it. Sometimes it's difficult to monitor what police are doing after their beats, or if they were drinking while on break," he said.
He also brought up legal codes used by police who stop drunk drivers.
In 2000, the Code of Administrative Offenses was changed, allowing police to be more flexible in issuing penalties to drivers who are caught driving while drink.
"In some cases, if a person is driving under the influence and is stopped by police then the person has to pay more or less depending on his blood alcohol level," he said.
If an accident occurs, drivers who have been drinking oftentimes drive away from the scene because there's less chance they'll be punished, he said.

Officers didn't arrest Paulikas until 17 hours after the accident when, escorted by his brother, he turned himself in to the Skuodas police.
A test showed that Paulikas had no alcohol in his system; however, the police employee who spoke to The Baltic Times said it's possible that Paulikas might have used specialized medicines to clean the alcohol out of his body in the interim.
Some positive movement may be happening on the legal front. As The Baltic Times went to press on Nov. 22 a draft law that would increase punishments for traffic violators and set stricter blood alcohol limits was set for a vote in Parliament.

The Nov. 8 tragedy also prompted the General Prosecutor's Office to analyze all dismissed cases related to car accidents and deaths from 2006 - 2007.
Lithuania ranks as EU's worst country for road safety. From Nov. 9 - 15, 16 people were killed and 151 injured on Lithuanian roads.