Moscow taxi driver ploughs into crowd, hurting 8 including two Mexican soccer fans, ‘after falling asleep’

Video from authorities showed Chyngyz Anarbek, 28, from Kyrgyzstan saying he was exhausted but not drunk; it is unclear if he was under duress

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 3:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 3:17am

A taxi driver in Moscow fell asleep at the wheel on Saturday, smashing into two Mexican soccer fans and six other pedestrians near Red Square, Moscow city police said on Sunday.

The police released a video of an interrogation session with a man the Moscow force identified as the taxi driver. In the recording, he says he briefly dozed off and accidentally hit the gas. It was unclear whether the man spoke under duress.

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The man in the video – identified as Chyngyz Anarbek, 28, from Kyrgyzstan by the Moscow city traffic authority – said he hadn’t slept in 20 hours and wasn’t drunk, and ran away after the accident because he was afraid angry bystanders would kill him. He was later detained.

Speaking from the town of Muras Ordo in Kyrgyzstan, Anarbek’s older brother said only had been working as a taxi driver for a month. He said his sibling was in “stress, shock, horror” after what happened.

“Let people say what they want, but my brother is clean, not guilty. He was never and could never be a terrorist,” Almazbek Anarbek said.

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The younger Anarbek won a bronze medal last year in the world championship of Pankration, an ancient sport combining skills of boxing and wrestling

Videos circulating on Russian social media and some news websites after the incident showed the taxi veering onto the pavement Saturday and striking pedestrians.

The accident took place on Ilinka Street, about 200 meters (650 feet) from Red Square and Moscow’s famous GUM shopping arcade, an area popular with tourists.

Viktoria Geranovich, who works nearby and filmed the fleeing driver on her phone, described her shock.

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“I called the ambulance right away,” she said. “I was trembling. It is not a thing you see every day, when a taxi drives right into the crowd.”

Moscow police would not comment on whether the crash would affect security measures for soccer’s World Cup, which is being held in 11 Russian cities over the next month. Among the security concerns has been the possible use of vehicles as weapons.

Russia has also been working with law enforcement from other countries to secure the tournament.

“The sense we are getting is that [the taxi crash] is not football-related,” Mark Roberts, head of UK soccer policing, said.

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“At the moment, everything we are being told is that it was just a run-of-the-mill event.”

A spokeswoman for Fifa said that World Cup organisers regretted what happened, but referred security questions to Moscow authorities because the crash took place outside stadiums or fan venues.

The spokeswoman, who was not authorised to be publicly named, said World Cup organisers were in regular contact with local authorities on security.

The Mexican embassy said the two injured female fans met with embassy representatives and were not hospitalised. The Mexican national soccer team plays against Germany on Sunday in Moscow.

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The head of the Moscow health department, Alexei Khripun, was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying the other injured people were in satisfactory condition.

Three Russians remained hospitalised Sunday, but were expected to be discharged in coming days, Khripun said.

International soccer fans in Moscow shared information about the crash, but didn’t appear to let it dampen their enthusiasm.

“It is pretty horrible that something like that has happened,” said Mexican supporter Julio Domingues. But, he added, “there are crazy people everywhere”.

Fellow fan Fernando Ibarra said: “We hope our countrymen are OK! Big hug to the families too. Viva Mexico!”