Bus accident on Highway 1 on February 14, 2016.
(photo credit: MIDABRIM BATIKSHORET)
The driver of the bus involved in a collision that left 6 people dead Sunday night was ordered kept in custody for three days, on suspicion of negligent manslaughter and of tampering with the investigation of the accident.
In court on Monday, police said that in the 40 minutes between the time the accident happened and police placed him under arrest, Chaim Biton managed to remove the bus’s tachograph – which records the vehicle’s speed – and then put it back again after removing a disc.
Police also said the driver made a series of phone calls and they are working to access the numbers that he dialed.
The arrest warrant for Biton, a Jerusalemite, says the police case so far is based on forensic evidence, testimony from three sources: Biton, the truck driver he hit, and multiple witnesses.
Police said that while driving his 402 Egged bus on Highway 1 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, “for reasons that remain unclear, he left the right lane and began driving on the shoulder and did not notice a disabled truck on the side of the road and struck it with great force.”
Police said that at the last moment he apparently did notice the truck because he swerved to the left, causing the bus to hit the truck mainly on its rear left side.
Almost all the passengers sitting on the right side of the bus were killed or hurt as a crane mounted on the back of the truck gutted the right side of the bus. Speaking at the Jerusalem Traffic Court on Sunday, police said the accident “looked like a terrorist attack.”
Biton was arrested at the scene of the accident at 7:30 Sunday night, some 40 minutes after the collision. Police continued to investigate the scene until 2 a.m., and questioned Biton until 6:30 a.m.
The accident bore a striking resemblance to another involving Biton in December 2013. In the earlier collision Biton was driving the 402 line on Highway 1 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak when he hit a truck from behind, leaving 18 passengers lightly hurt.
A frequent passenger on the 402 line told Channel 2 that Biton often drove recklessly, traveled at excessive speed, failed to stay focused on the road and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.
The names of the victims of the accident were cleared for publication on Monday morning. They include Yisrael Weinberg, 26, Yaakov Meir Hashin, 27, Aharon Mordechai, 18, Leah Malmud, 50, Hannah Frenkel, 23, all from Jerusalem, and Levi Yitzhak Amdadi, 17, from Yavne’el.
The victims were buried in funerals beginning late Sunday night. Hanna Frenkel’s husband Mordechai was wounded in the crash but left the hospital to attend her funeral at the Mount of Olives.
Mordechai said his wife, who was pregnant, “was a righteous woman and all she wanted in life was to study Torah, that’s what made her happy. She was a modest, righteous woman; God willing, all of the people of Israel will learn from her.”
The youngest victim, 17-year-old Levi Yitzhak Amdadi was buried Sunday night in his hometown of Yavne’el. His father, Hillel Amdadi, said of his son, “God wanted him to be in his yeshiva in the heavens” On Monday, less than 24 hours after the wreck, 12 people were lightly wounded in an additional collision between a bus and a truck in Ashdod.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Monday, “It is totally clear that on that road, it’s not an area that needs to be renovated. It is obvious there was a distraction and police are currently investigating it.
“The infrastructure is good and no one else can be blamed,” Katz told a Knesset Economics Committee meeting.
Katz also said that, starting in November, all buses and trucks will be required to use a “life-saving warning system,” and he will try to move that up.
However, Knesset Caucus to Prevent Traffic Accidents chairman Hamad Amar blamed the problem on the shoulders of most roads not being wide enough.
“Although the Transportation Ministry set aside NIS 2b. to take care of dangerous sites like these, the plan was not implemented fully nor fast enough, and as a result, we regularly see killer accidents on these roads,” Amar said.
Amar said that traffic accidents are not fate, and called for a change in national priorities to prevent them by budgeting for additional traffic police, enforcement and education.