Meital Aharonson 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel on Thursday sentenced Shai Simon to 20 years in jail for manslaughter and abandoning the victims of an accident that he caused when he sped through a red light while drunk and smashed into two young women crossing a street in downtown Tel Aviv.
The sentence was the longest ever handed down for a manslaughter charge involving a road accident.
The collision occurred on October 17, 2008. One of the victims, 27-year-old Meital Aharonson, was killed, and her close friend, Mali Yazdi, was seriously injured and has been in a wheelchair since then.
Gurfinkel sentenced Shalom Yemini, who was riding beside Simon, with abandoning the victims and sentenced him to five years in jail.
“Simon’s driving was not negligent but reckless and criminal,” wrote Gurfinkel. “The time has come to make it clear to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol that they are to be judged according to the same standards as someone who indiscriminately opens fire with a weapon, even if he does not hit anyone.”
Last month, Gurfinkel convicted Simon of manslaughter, drunken driving, causing severe injury, abandoning the victims, destroying evidence, ignoring a stoplight and making an illegal U-turn.
On Thursday, he sentenced him to 12 years in jail for the death of Aharonson and three years for the injury caused to Yazdi. He made only one of these years overlapping. In addition, he sentenced Simon to seven years for leaving the scene of the accident, making one of the years overlap with the other prison sentence.
Altogether, Gurfinkel sentenced Simon to 20 years in jail.
The judge added that one of his reasons for giving him such a stiff sentence was because Simon had lied to the police and the court by claiming that Yemini had been driving the car when the accident occurred. In fact, Yemini was originally accused of being the driver in the indictment.
It was only in the middle of the trial that the state asked the court to change the charge sheet and charge Simon with driving the car.
Gurfinkel charged Yemini with being equally responsible for abandoning the scene of the accident without extending help to the victims. In fact, the judge said that he was even more responsible because he was clearly the dominant figure and Simon would have done whatever Yemini told him to do.
Nevertheless, because Simon was the driver, Gurfinkel gave him a heavier sentence on this count than he did Yemini. He also ruled that Simon would not be given a driver’s license for the rest of his life.
Simon’s father interrupted the hearing and shouted at Gurfinkel, “You’re the real killer.” And to Meital Aharonson’s mother, Leora, he yelled, “Your daughter was drunk.”
But Aharonson’s mother responded quietly. “Their families are angry. We are more angry, but we didn’t make accusations like that. I assume that they will calm down and understand that this is the smallest price they can pay for what their children did.
“This is not a closing of the circle. The only way the circle could be closed is if Meital were to return to us. That will obviously never happen. The judge applied the law to the fullest extent against the criminals, and they will go to jail.
“But the time will come when they will return home and the families will always be able to speak to them and hug them and they will be able to be with their families. We will never have that privilege again. Our daughter was killed, her life was taken and no one gave her a choice. They decided and she paid the price.”
Mali Yazdi praised Gurfinkel for his decision.
“He did his work properly and wasn’t afraid of anyone and gave a precedent-setting decision which I hope will serve as a warning to others in the future,” she said.
Yazdi has already undergone several operations since the accident and
will soon undergo another one. She suffered fractures in her right knee,
left thigh, and wrist and bleeding in her scalp.
Or Yarok, a group aiming to changing the driving culture in Israel,
issued a statement saying, “For the first time, the judicial system
recognizes the gravity of the deed and deals with drunken driving and
abandoning the accident scene applying its full weight...
“Or Yarok hopes that the court’s sentence establishes a new threshold
which is more strict towards traffic violators when dealing with
incidents like this…The sentence conveys a clear message of an
uncompromising struggle and a hard line towards highway criminals.”