Eight dead, dozens hurt in major road accident in Negev

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said that all of the fatalities are women in their 50s.

Accident with a bus in the Negev at Lehavim Junction, February 3, 2014 (photo credit: YASSER OKBI/MAARIV HASHAVUA)
Accident with a bus in the Negev at Lehavim Junction, February 3, 2014
Eight women were killed and dozens of people were injured when a truck collided with a private bus on a southern highway Tuesday afternoon.

The crash happened near the entrance to Lehavim on Route 31, north of Beersheba. Though police said they had yet to determine how the accident had happened, an initial investigation showed that a truck carrying two tractors had collided with the left side of the bus.Police detained both drivers for questioning.All eight fatalities were women in their 50s and 60s from the Beduin village of Hura. All of them were grandmothers who were on their way home after praying in the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.Magen David Adom said that when its paramedics arrived at the scene, they had found the eight women unconscious on the left side of the bus, showing signs of massive trauma. The paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive them and pronounced them dead inside the bus.MDA quoted paramedic Gil Asiskovitz as saying that “even for us, as people who are present at many different difficult accidents, this is something that will be etched in our minds and difficult to forget.”Twenty-eight of the more than 30 people injured, including one in serious condition, were taken to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, which went into “mass-casualty event” mode in order to deal with the high number of victims. MDA ambulances and IDF helicopters evacuated the injured, most of whom were released from Soroka by Tuesday night.The Traffic Police said it would examine to what extent human error had played a role, and would investigate both drivers to determine, among other things, whether either of them had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.The police will also examine whether the trailer carrying the tractors had been hauling a load wider than the maximum allowed on the highway.The highway where the accident took place has long had a reputation as a dangerous stretch of largely undivided road where drivers must exercise great caution. Just three days earlier, a 10-year-old Beduin boy was killed while walking on the same highway.According to the Or Yarok road safety organization, there has been an average of nine deaths and 200 injuries per year on the highway.Rahat Mayor Talal al-Krenawi said at the scene of the accident that, “I have warned on a number of occasions about this road.This is a road of blood that has taken many lives and must be dealt with permanently.”A member of the Hura Regional Council, Ashak al-Kian, said his parents and sisters had been on the bus and spent the day praying at and touring the mosque. Calling the accident the worst in years, he said most of the men had sat at the front of the bus and therefore been only lightly hurt, unlike the women who had crowded in the back.“The work on this road has taken too long – a decade already – and no one is checking what is taking so long,” he said. “This is a serious tragedy.The village of Hura lost eight women.”Avi Azulay, head of the southern branch of the National Road Safety Authority, said the highway had already been declared a dangerous road 15 years ago, though not the particular section where the accident happened.Renovation work began three years ago to make the road safer, due to the heavy death toll.Azulay said that, because of ongoing construction on the road, drivers must be extremely careful. Most of the road is undivided and has narrow shoulders, he added, though he said that due to the renovations, the number of fatalities in recent years had begun to drop.According to the authority, there have only been three minor accidents in the past four years.Following the crash, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences over the loss of life and wished a full recovery to the injured.