4.5 years for Egged driver who caused deaths of 5 people

5 were killed and dozens more injured when Ghanem Bahajat's Egged bus 361 collided with a large truck at Gilon junction in 2010.

Egged bus 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Egged bus 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Acre Magistrate’s Court for Traffic sentenced a 26-year-old Egged bus driver to four-and- a-half years in prison on Monday, following his conviction for negligent manslaughter, reckless driving and causing damage to people and property.
Five people were killed and dozens more injured when the Egged bus 361 that Ghanem Bahajat was driving collided with a large truck at the Gilon junction on May 13, 2010.
The victims were 62-year-old Asher Nidam; Zaki Yitzhak Zohar, 56; Major Saleh Abdullah, a 42-year-old Prisons Service officer; Sgt. Inna Svardelov, 21; and Capt. Aviv El-Dan, 25.
Bahajat, who was arrested immediately after the accident, admitted the charges against him.
Monday’s ruling sets a precedent in being the first case in Israeli history in which a prison sentence of more than three years has been handed down for a negligent manslaughter conviction made in connection with a road accident.
Further, the court noted that on only two occasions in the state’s history, charges of negligent manslaughter have resulted in a prison term of over three years. Bashar and Jamal Abasi, who drove the suicide bomber responsible for the 2004 Carmel Market bombing, were sentenced to five and three years, respectively, and in 2007, engineer Eli Ron received five years for the 2001 Versailles wedding hall disaster in Jerusalem, which killed 23 people.
However, Judge Avishay Kaufman said he had decided not to impose the harshest possible penalty on Bahajat – three years in prison for each of the five people killed in the accident.
The judge said that in passing sentence on Bahajat, he had taken into account impact statements made by the families of those killed in the accident, and weighed that against a Probation Service report stating that Bahajat was a normative person, who had served in the army as a Border Police guard and had no criminal record.
Kaufman said Bahajat was guilty of a high degree of negligence, and that the deadly accident could easily have been avoided. Even though the truck with which the bus collided had been partly in the bus lane, the judge said Bahajat could have easily maneuvered the bus to avoid hitting the truck.
“This kind of action was expected from a professional driver transporting dozens of people who trust him, his driving skills and above all in the fact that he is concentrating on his driving and giving it his full attention,” the judge said.
“Unfortunately, and tragically, it seems this was not the case.”
Kaufman noted that many Israelis are demanding stricter punishments to help prevent road accidents, but said that research has not yet shown a link between harsher punishments and road accident prevention, particularly fatal accidents.
However, the judge said he believed that improved education, better and safer road infrastructure and increased public awareness, rather than harsher punishments, would help reduce accidents, not stricter punishments.
In addition to the prison sentence, Kaufman banned Bahajat from holding a driver’s license for 20 years.