( RIA Novosti ) - Viktor Shershunov, governor of the Kostroma Region in the center of European Russia, died in a car accident near Moscow early Thursday, local police reported.
"The accident occurred shortly after midnight on the Yaroslavl Highway, 76 kilometers [about 50 miles northeast] off Moscow," a police source said.
Shershunov and his driver died instantly after their Mercedes hit a Ford Focus that was driving on the wrong side of the road, said Yury Tsikunov, the acting governor. He also said Shershunov was traveling to Moscow for a nuclear agency session without a police escort.
The Ford driver is in intensive care in hospital, radio reports said. Prosecutors in the Moscow region said they had opened an inquiry into the violation of traffic rules.
The regional press service said Kostroma police and the local Federal Security Service (FSB) branch had joined the investigation. "Investigators from the Kostroma Region are already working at the scene," the press service said.
Shershunov had been governor of the region since 1996. He was reelected governor in 2000, when he scored 63% of the regional vote thanks to the Communists' support. Later that year, he joined the Kremlin-backed United Russia party. In 2005, he was reaffirmed to the post by the president in a procedure that replaced direct gubernatorial elections.
Shershunov, who was 56, is survived by a wife and three sons.
The funeral will take place in the regional center of Kostroma, 370 km ( 230 miles) from Moscow, on Saturday, the region's administration said by telephone.
"The president [Vladimir Putin] has expressed deep condolences to the relatives, friends and colleagues of the late governor," the Kremlin press office said.