A life cut short

Yonah Goldman died in a car crash last month. Could more have been done to save him?

yonah goldman 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yonah goldman 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sorrow, bewilderment and rage. These emotions filled the small house in Kiryat Arba where a family and community mourned a favorite son: Yonah Goldman, son of Bruce and Freida Goldman of Pikesville, Maryland, who was killed in a car accident on November 21 at 24, leaving behind his wife, Dina, and their 10-month-old son, Binyamin Tzvi. The accident took place around 8:40 a.m. in heavy rain on an infamous S-curve on the Kiryat Gat-Beit Guvrin road. Yonah was en route to his office in Beit Shemesh when he spotted a hitchhiker looking for a ride; he took the young woman to a gas station so she could get out of the rain and was on his way back toward Beit Shemesh when the accident occurred. The grieving relatives have been left agonizing over whether more could have been done to try to save Yonah - and whether the accident, at a known danger point, could have been prevented altogether. Capt. Shraga Dahan, an IDF chaplain from Beit Shemesh, came upon the scene barely a minute after the collision between Yonah's car and an oncoming truck transporting large plastic barrels. The cause and details of the collision are still under investigation, but when Dahan arrived, Yonah's car was directly behind the truck and the road was littered with barrels. The driver's side door was jammed closed and Yonah was pinned under the crushed dashboard. He was wearing his seat belt at the time of the collision, and aside from some blood visible on his head and confirmation that his leg was in pain, Dahan thought the situation looked hopeful and that Yonah was going to make it. Yonah could not speak but gestured with his head, and he nodded in response to each verse of Psalms that the rabbi read aloud on his behalf. "I told him that when he gets out of this, he will have to make a se'udat hodaya [feast of thanksgiving]," Dahan recollected, "and he nodded his head emphatically. He really rallied his strength for the psalms and for that statement more than when asked questions about how he was feeling." Dahan expressed consternation that none of the emergency response teams came from nearby Beit Shemesh. The police, for example, came from Kiryat Gat, about 20 minutes away. He amended a statement he made to Channel 1 that "nobody came for 45 minutes" after he called for emergency assistance. After checking the call log on his cellphone, Dahan confirmed that Hatzala was actually on the scene within 15 minutes of receiving his phone call. "First Hatzala came from Lachish, close by. Second came the police, then an ambulance, then the fire truck and then MDA." He was taken aback when he found out that someone from Magen David Adom, who was interviewed live at the site, claimed that MDA was present within 15 minutes, which was simply not true. Yeruham Mandola, MDA's official spokesman, declined to comment. The fire department's time of arrival is also disputed. According to Rabbi Dahan, the fire truck arrived approximately 40 minutes after he contacted the Fire and Rescue Service - a fact all the more disturbing because he was assured that the fire department was already aware of the situation before receiving his phone call. Yigal Zohar, the fire chief at the Kiryat Gat fire station, told a different story. He claimed the station received the summons at 8:52 a.m. and a fire truck was dispatched right away; he noted that a fire truck is usually sent out immediately after receiving a call. He placed the fire truck's time of arrival at 9:08, "a relatively fast arrival," and dismissed claims that it took 40 minutes for a fire truck to appear. "We hear these complaints a lot - MDA, the police, Hatzala [too]. For people in these situations every second seems like eternity," Zohar said. He expressed empathy for Yonah and the people who waited with him, but remained confident that his records are not mistaken. "Everything is recorded, written in the log." "An additional truck from Ashkelon arrived on the scene at 9:23," Zohar said, "bearing no connection to our dispatch to the site. When the second truck arrived, all was already lost. "Yonah was extracted at 9:31 in very critical condition. They tried to put him in a helicopter [to take him to the hospital], but it was already too late." Only the firemen had the necessary equipment to extricate Yonah from his car and make him fully accessible to the paramedics, and he died of internal bleeding shortly after being freed from the wreckage. According to Yigal Ohayon, the Traffic Police investigator responsible for the case, the file on the accident is still open but preliminary findings suggest that Yonah lost control of the car "for reasons unknown" and collided with the truck. "As for the lateness of the fire truck, I'm not getting into that," he said, and emphasized that he is responsible for investigating the collision itself, not what happened afterward. MEANWHILE, YONAH'S relatives remain as bitter about the alleged tardiness of the fire truck as they are about the unaddressed dangers of the road where their son lost his life. Locals say that the road was built before 1948 to bypass an Arab village that has been empty for at least the past four decades. Its curves are treacherous at this time of year, when the first winter rains mix with oil rising from the pavement, and it was spoken of in the shiva house as a known death trap that has claimed the lives of a number of people in the community. On a single day, two couples who each lost a child on that same stretch of road stopped by to console the Goldmans and share their feelings. The yahrzeit of one of the children had been a week earlier, while the yahrzeit of the other is coming soon. A relative pointed out that only after tragedies like these does the government take notice, but then no one had an answer for why the road has remained unchanged despite the ever-rising death toll. One of Dina's former teachers, whose child was killed in a car accident at the entrance to Kiryat Arba, shared her feelings about the current situation. "It is difficult, because you know you have to bless the bad just as you bless the good, because it's all from God. On the other hand, there are so many other ways that a person could be killed that aren't preventable that to have a young person die in a car accident is cruel. To die in a war, or a terrorist attack - a terrorist attack a person can't stop, [an individual] can't stop a terrorist, but a car accident is preventable. "This week there were seven fatalities [from car accidents in Israel]. Last week there were 12, and before that, 15. Where are the rabbis? Where are the rabbis demanding something to be done to protect the people?" ACCORDING TO the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2006 there were 17,306 car accidents, with 373 resulting in fatalities. While records for January-October of 2007 indicate a decrease in the total number of accidents per month, the average number of fatalities per month - 33 - is almost identical to last year's. Various callers at the shiva house expressed exasperation with other hazards on the roads, problems with fairly simple solutions. One couple described the intersection where people turn in to Efrat, south of Jerusalem, as "a nightmare," the cars speeding with impunity because everyone knows there is not a cop in sight. A resident of Kiryat Arba wondered how much it would cost to put lights in the tunnels leading out of Jerusalem into the West Bank near Gilo so drivers would no longer find themselves suddenly going from bright sunlight to complete darkness. She also pointed out that in America people change their tires or at least have them checked in preparation for winter. "Here, they don't even check the right things. On TV, they say, 'Come get your car checked for winter,' but they should make a law for it" and have standards so both drivers and cars are prepared. Yonah's mother refused to rest and went from one visitor to the next expressing her indignation and sadness. "It's not enough to sit shiva for one young person after another. I'm sorry, but I am very angry. They tell us to make aliya, and then they let us die here on the streets. If there's been so many accidents right there, that means something has to be done. I don't want my son's life to be in vain, I want something to come of this. A government has a responsibility to its people."