Israeli bus crash victims include Philadelphia teacher, South African immigrant

Israeli bus crash victims include Philadelphia teacher, South African immigrant

Driver in Sunday crash near Ben Gurion airport remanded for 4 days; deceased include Hayley Varenberg from Jerusalem and Berta Schwartz who was in Israel for her grandchild’s birth

Hayley (Sevitz) Varenberg, killed in a bus crash near Ben Gurion Airport on December 21, 2019. (Courtesy)
Hayley (Sevitz) Varenberg, killed in a bus crash near Ben Gurion Airport on December 21, 2019. (Courtesy)

Three of the four victims of a fatal bus crash at a bus stop near Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday evening have been named, including a US woman and an immigrant from South Africa.

The No. 947 bus, which had left Jerusalem for Haifa at 6 p.m., hit a bus stop at the side of the road at Bedek Junction. The impact caused massive damage to the vehicle, which was partially crushed by the bus stop’s concrete roof.

Three women and one man died in the crash. The identity of one of the women has not yet been published.

The man was identified Sunday as 79-year-old Yosef Kahalani of Petah Tikva, who is survived by his wife, three daughters and 14 grandchildren.

Kahalani’s funeral took place at 3 p.m. Monday at the Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva.

Jerusalem resident Hayley (Sevitz) Varenberg was named Monday as a second victim of the crash.

Varenberg, 35, was originally from Capetown, South Africa, and had worked as an English teacher at a high school.

She was mourned by her family as “an enthusiastic Zionist who made aliyah to Israel at the end of her academic studies. Hayley was committed to her family and her community and was a kind, modest, loving and caring person.”

Varenberg’s funeral began at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem. She is mourned by her husband, Eli, her parents and three siblings.

A third victim was named Tuesday as Berta Schwartz, 71, a US citizen who lives in Philadelphia and was in Israel — for the first time in nine years — to celebrate the imminent birth of her fifth grandchild.

Schwartz, a teacher, had been on the bus with her husband, Baruch, who was sitting in a different row and survived.

“For more than half an hour I was shouting ‘where is she?’ She was under the concrete,” he recounted to Hebrew-language media. “What hurts the most is that in two weeks a grandchild is supposed to be born to our son, and she was looking forward to that so much. She hadn’t been in the country for nine years and this visit was very significant for her.”

He said Berta and he had gone to the Western Wall earlier Sunday, where she handed dollar bills to passersby and was “happy she was at the Kotel.” On the bus, she insisted on sitting in the front while he wanted to sit further back, which ended up saving his life.

The couple left Israel for the US in 1976.

So saddened to hear the news of this tragic accident which took the life of a beloved teacher from Eric's elementary…

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Susan Chelder Schuman‎‏ ב- יום שני, 23 בדצמבר 2019

The driver for the Egged bus company was taken into custody Monday after being treated for his injuries at Beilinson Hospital, and his remand was extended later by four days. He has been named as Alexander Leibman, a 44-year old resident of Haifa.

An initial investigation found that the bus swerved for an unknown reason. A Magen David Adom ambulance service medic said that the driver was trapped in his seat, but was conscious when emergency services arrived at the scene. A senior police officer told Channel 12 after the accident that investigators suspected that the driver had been distracted. His phone was confiscated.

The driver could face negligent homicide charges, reports in Hebrew media said Monday.

Emergency services at the site of a deadly bus crash on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport, December 22, 2019. (Magen David Adom)

According to Channel 13, the driver told investigators that he did not have an explanation for the accident, saying, “I’m still in shock, I don’t know how it happened.”

The rescue operation took some four hours and involved firefighters and paramedics.

Two women, aged 67 and 19, were left in serious condition, MDA said. Twelve other people were lightly injured.

The deaths brought to 345 the number of people killed in traffic accidents during 2019, according to figures from the National Road Safety Authority. Last year, 316 people were killed on the country’s roads.

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