4 freed after Mt. Herzl disaster, producer detained

Police accuse company owners, engineer, consultant of negligence, forgery and accepting bribes, questioning producer.

Lighting rig falls at Har Herzl 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Lighting rig falls at Har Herzl 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Police on Thursday released one suspect, while a judge ordered the release of three people who were arrested in connection with the collapse of a light rigging system above a stage on the capital’s Mount Herzl that killed a female soldier and injured several others a day earlier.
Police released the first suspect early on Thursday without a court hearing and the remaining three were brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing in the afternoon.
The judge denied the police’s request to keep the suspects in custody for an additional week for questioning.
The three suspects will be released on Friday at 9 a.m., to give the police a chance to appeal the magistrate’s court decision to the Jerusalem District Court. All of the suspects were ordered released with conditions, including paying a NIS 10,000 fine.
The suspects are the two owners of the Itzuv Bama company, the company engineer, and a security consultant from the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
The ministry is in charge of next week’s Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl; Lt. Hila Bezaleli was killed during rehearsals on Wednesday.
Police on Thursday night also detained for questioning the producer of the Independence Day ceremony. They will decide whether to seek to remand the man to custody following the investigation. The suspects are accused of causing death by negligence.
Elad Lavie, one of the owners of the company, and Oren Varshovsky, the engineer, are also accused of fraud and forgery.
Police said that some of the company’s safety certificates were forged and others were simply “oral agreements” that were not sufficient.
“There is suspicion here of a long series of oversights. A person was killed. A national symbol has been tarnished,” said Supt. Eli Cohen, who is in charge of investigations for the Moriah police precinct in Jerusalem.
“The question is not if the screw was tightened or if the correct material was used – rather [it regards] much more basic failures,” Cohen said during the hearing for Yitzhak Zuker, the security consultant for the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
Judge Haim Li-Ran agreed with police that there was a serious lack of safety and “reasonable suspicion” against a number of the suspects, but did not see a need to keep them in custody.
“What happened here is a long chain of failures at every stage and in the preparations for building the structure,” Police Supt. Itzik Simon told the court during the hearing for Lavie. He called it “negligence at the highest level that I have seen.”
Zuker said he knew Bezaleli’s mother through work.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said as he exited the court. “Even though I’m not responsible, I’m very sorry for how it happened.”
Lawyers for the suspects said the arrests were made prematurely and that police should have waited until the investigation was finished.
Police said there could be additional arrests as more details came to light.
Soldiers taking part in the rehearsals on the stage for Independence Day ceremonies had warned 20 minutes before the collapse that the lighting system appeared unstable, but their calls were ignored.
Bezaleli, 20, who was killed when the lighting structure fell on her, was buried at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery late on Wednesday night. Hundreds of people attended the funeral.
Four other people were injured, one critically, when the 10-meter-tall steel light rigging system collapsed. The other victims were injured lightly and treated at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that despite the tragedy, Independence and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars ceremonies should be held as planned on Mount Herzl.
“This is due to the symbolic importance of the mountain and its proximity to the gravestones of those who died in Israel’s military campaigns,” Rivlin said.