A couple and six of their children were killed early Tuesday when their minivan overturned and caught on fire on the road leading into Tiberias. Another child, a eight-year-old girl, was apparently thrown from the vehicle and survived.
The victims were identified as the Attias family: Refael and Yehudit, both 42; daughter Avia, 17; twins boys Shimon Neria and Elyashiv, 16; and three more daughters, Shira, 10, Ta’ir, 9, and Noa, 5. The surviving daughter is Rachel.
The eight were laid to rest in Safed Tuesday night.
Refael, who was driving, lost control on Menachem Begin Road and the minivan rolled into a ditch before catching fire. The family, except for Rachel, was trapped inside.
Refael Attias called emergency services a short time before the accident and reported that the vehicle’s brakes were failing. Emergency line operators said they were still on the phone with Yehudit when they heard screaming and the sound of the vehicle overturning. “Lord protect us, Lord save us,” Yehudit’s voice was heard calling.
Rescue workers saw Rachel, the surviving girl, on the ground at a distance from the burning car. She received first aid at the scene and was taken to Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, and then transferred to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
The family hails from Moshav Bar Yochai in the northern Galilee. They were returning home from an event in nearby Migdal Ha’emek at 2 a.m. when they decided to make a detour to pray at the grave of Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horvitz.
A local resident who heard the screams and ran outside to help said the scene looked like a war zone.
“Suddenly I noticed a little girl,” said Eli Lenkri, “who ran over to me and said, ‘They’re all dead. They’re all dead.’” He then yelled toward the passengers whom he could see inside the burning car, but according to Lenkri there was no response.
The car was traveling at a speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).
The brother of the driver, who was hosting the family in the hours before the accident, said the police woke him up with the news. “I didn’t believe it. It’s not something you can explain,” he said. “They were here until 1 a.m. with the children. They helped clean up… at 1 a.m. I told my brother, ‘Thank you so much, have a safe journey.’”
Police are investigating the cause of the vehicle’s brake malfunction and whether it was caused by negligence. The family car passed its yearly certification test three months ago.
Early findings revealed that the brake pads were severely eroded. All the family members apart from the young girl were wearing their seat belts.
The Transportation Ministry has announced it will launch an investigation into licensing bureaus practices in light of suspected negligence.