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(photo credit: Metuna / Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prominent lawyer Avigdor Klagsbald pleaded guilty to criminal negligence charges Thursday for crashing into a car stopped at a red light and killing its two passengers, a young woman and her son.
In light of his plea, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court convicted him of causing death through negligence and careless driving causing severe injury.
The fatal accident occurred on Derech Namir in northern Tel Aviv on April 11, when Klagsbald's car slammed into the back of the vehicle driven by Yevgenia Vexler, 23. She and her six-year-old son, Arthur, were killed.
After the decision was handed down, the court heard arguments regarding sentencing, including the testimony of character witnesses on Klagsbald's behalf.
Yevgenia's mother-in-law, Victoria, who testified for the prosecution, showed the court a photo of her grandson and said, "An empty hole had opened up since the death of my loved ones."
Afterward, Victoria Vexler cried as she told The Jerusalem Post, "It was really hard for us to be there today. I really don't have the strength any more. It is much too painful to carry on."
Klagsbald also addressed the court. "I have tried to live a decent and helpful life, but in three seconds everything went down the drain because of lack of concentration. It is no clich when I say that my life has changed completely since the accident. It is full of suffering and torment. But, I know that the suffering I feel is nothing compared to that of the Vexler family," he said.
"It is important for me not only to accept legal responsibility but also moral responsibility. This means that I recognize that I am obligated to try and atone for what happened. I intend to approach the family and try to ease their suffering and become active in the fight against traffic accidents," he continued.
Several prominent witnesses, including former education minister Amnon Rubinstein and Uriel Reichman, founder of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, testified on Klagsbald's behalf.
Reichman said, "I have known Dori [Klagsbald's nickname] for 30 years, from the days he was an outstanding student. His contribution to public life, on a voluntary basis, is great. For many years he has given the fees he earns for lectures to needy students. He has given consultations without pay. Anyone who knows him as I do can confirm that this affair has shocked him. Here is a man who was a candidate for the Supreme Court.
He has paid and continues to pay a heavy price and he feels pain and sorrow. It has aged him 20 years. The fact that a person is successful and has achieved much by dint of hard work should not work against him."
Rubinstein also testified that the accident had turned Klagsbald into "an old and exhausted man. I told him time would heal, but he said time would not heal this wound. We must not let the public dictate the sentence. The media has lynched him."
Indeed, the real battle on Thursday was over the sentence. The prosecutor, Eli Schwartz, called on the court to send Klagsbald to prison. "We are talking about the highest level of criminal negligence, which led to horrendous results," he said.
Klagsbald's lawyer, Dan Scheinemann, said his client had pleaded guilty to the charges but rejected the allegation that the negligence had been "criminal."
There is no charge of "criminal negligence" in the Penal Code. However, the dispute between the prosecution and defense over the adjective "criminal," which appears in the indictment but not in the formal charge, could prove the difference between whether Klagsbald will be sentenced to time in prison, or let off with a sentence of public service as the defense has requested.
Outside the courtroom, several dozen demonstrators held up signs reading, "Equal Justice for Every Citizen" and "All are Equal before the Law." Some said Klagsbald should have been charged with manslaughter. Many of the protesters were had children who had been killed in traffic accidents.
One of the protesters, Zelda Harris, spokeswoman for Metuna, a non-profit organization that fights against road accidents, told the Post, "I spoke to Reichmann after he gave his testimony and he blamed the media for persecuting Klagsbald because he was famous. But I told him that this case has to act as a warning to other drivers to be careful on the road."