Bringing to a close one of the worst traffic accidents in Israeli history in which 24 Russian travel agents were killed when a tour bus drove off a cliff on the way to Eilat, driver Edward Gelfand was found guilty of manslaughter by the Beersheba District Court on Sunday.

The December 2008 accident was a result of Gelfand illegally and dangerously trying to pass other vehicles on Route 12, at 98 km. per hour despite an 80-km. per hour maximum speed, a recommended speed of 50-km. and numerous signs advising of dangerous curves.

Eventually, Gelfand simply drove the bus off one of the cliffs. It fell 54 meters, the driver unable to break, due to the speed.

Besides the deaths of the travel agents, on their way to evaluate Eilat as a tour resort, 15 others were seriously injured and another 13 experienced light injuries.

Gelfand, 44, from Petah Tikva, was a veteran driver.

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 noted that the prosecution, by personal decision of 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 face 20 years in prison.

The prosecution refused to reveal in advance what sentence it would seek at a hearing scheduled for February 2, 2014.

Media reports indicated that Gelfand may appeal to the Supreme Court.

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