Suspects in Mt. Herzl tragedy to remain in custody

Independence Day ceremony will continue as planned, officials decide; court accepts police appeal to extend suspects' remands.

April 20, 2012 18:18
2 minute read.
Lighting rig falls at Har Herzl

Lighting rig falls at Har Herzl 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The three suspects detained in connection with last week’s light rigging collapse on Mount Herzl will remain in detention until 5 p.m. on Monday, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Friday.

On Thursday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the release of three suspects while the police continued their investigation.

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The district court overturned that decision on Friday, giving the police additional time to question the men.

The suspects are an owner of the Itzuv Bama company, the company engineer and a security consultant from the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

The ministry is in charge of this week’s Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl, where 20-year-old Lt. Hila Bezaleli was killed and four other soldiers were injured during rehearsals on Wednesday when the metal light rigging collapsed.

An additional suspect, Meir Sela, who was in charge of the Independence Day ceremony, was arrested on Friday and will also remain in custody over the weekend. Police said that people had noticed the structure looked unsteady and Sela should have stopped the rehearsals immediately. The suspects are accused of causing death by negligence.

Elad Lavie, one of the owners of the company, and Oren Varshovsky, the company engineer, are also accused of fraud and forgery. A second owner of the Itzuv Bama company was arrested and then released by police on Thursday.

During extensive testimony on Thursday in three separate hearings, Police Supt. Itzik Simon said the company was “negligent at the highest level that I have seen.”

“What happened here is a long chain of failures at every stage and in the preparations of building the structure,” he said.

Police say that some of the company’s safety certificates were forged and others were simply “oral agreements” that were not sufficient.

Yitzhak Zuker, the security consultant who approved the safety of the light fixture, told police during a Friday interrogation that he has never possessed or been granted a permit validating that he was a qualified expert on the issue, Army Radio reported.

The police are also checking if the tender for building the lighting for the ceremony was granted on the basis of family or other prohibited connections between the winning bidder and employees of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

Police may summon senior officials from the ministry for questioning, although the ministry said it had not received any notices.

The Independence Day ceremony will go on as planned on Wednesday evening, authorities decided. The decision was made following consultations between Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

“The heavy tragedy will certainly have an influence, but with all the sadness and pain, the Independence Day ceremony must go on,” Rivlin said.

Soldiers taking part in the rehearsals on Wednesday had warned 20 minutes before the collapse that the lighting system appeared unstable, but their calls were ignored.

Bezaleli was buried at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery late on Wednesday night. Hundreds of people attended the funeral.

Four others were injured, one critically, when the 10- meter-tall steel light rigging system collapsed. The other victims were injured lightly and treated at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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