Bus driver Edward Gelfand was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Beersheba District Court on Sunday, bringing to a close one of the worst traffic accidents in Israeli history.
Twenty-four Russian travel agents were killed when Gelfand drove their tour bus off a cliff on the way to Eilat in 2008.
The court also revoked Gelfand’s driver’s license and prohibited him from driving any vehicle for 25 years.
Gelfand was found guilty of manslaughter by the Beersheba District Court in September 2013.
The December 2008 accident occurred when Gelfand illegally and dangerously tried to pass other vehicles on Route 12. He was speeding at 98 km. per hour despite an 80-km. per hour maximum speed, a recommended speed of 50-km., and numerous signs warning of dangerous curves.
Eventually, Gelfand simply drove the bus off one of the cliffs. It fell 54 meters to the ground below.
Besides the deaths of the travel agents, on their way to evaluate Eilat as a tourist resort, 15 others were seriously injured and another 13 experienced light injuries.
Gelfand, 44, from Petah Tikva, was a veteran driver.
Upon conviction, the court said he “knew the significance of his actions” and their potential for danger.
It rejected Gelfand’s statements that he had only been driving at 70 km. per hour and that he had lost control of the bus because of problems with the road conditions. It also rejected excuses that the vehicle he was trying to pass had closed him off, that an object from the other vehicle had hit the bus or in some way forced him off the cliff.
The court concluded that in trying to overtake on a dangerous winding road with a 20-ton bus, all of the fault lay with him, also convicting him of the lesser crime of causing serious bodily harm.
A press release by the prosecution stated that State Attorney Moshe Lador had exercised discretion in seeking a conviction not merely for negligent homicide, a lighter crime, but manslaughter, carrying a much heavier sentence.
If given the maximum punishment for manslaughter, Gelfand could have faced 20 years in prison.