The traffic court in Jerusalem on Monday remanded for three days a bus driver who was involved in a fatal accident on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway on the previous evening, after a preliminary police investigation suggested he may have tampered with evidence after the crash.
Six people died and a dozen were injured in Sunday evening’s collision between the crowded intercity bus 402 and a truck near the city of Ramle.
The bus driver, Haim Bitton, 40, is suspected of obstruction of justice and negligent homicide, police said. According to suspicions, after the crash he tampered with the vehicle’s tachograph, a device installed in public buses that monitors the driver’s speed and has a role similar to the black box on an airplane.
The disk inside the tachograph details the speeds at which a vehicle was traveling over the preceding 24 hours.
Drivers need to insert a new disk with their name and the date at the beginning of every journey.
Officer Moshe Cohen, representing the police, said Bitton was arrested only 40 minutes after the collision and during that time made several phone calls.
“It was like the scene of a terror attack,” Cohen said.
The officer told the court that police at the scene and Bitton himself could not remove the disk from the tachograph; however, the bus driver said during his initial interrogation that he had removed and reinserted the disk in the moments after the crash.
“We confiscated the entire tachograph box and have not succeeded in opening it yet,” Cohen told the court. “I cannot even guarantee that the disk is inside.”
Bitton crashed on the same route in 2013, also smashing into a truck and overturning the vehicle on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv artery. Several passengers were injured in that incident, after which the Egged bus company banned him from intercity routes. The ban was only lifted a few weeks ago and he was permitted to drive the Jerusalem to Tel Aviv line once again, Channel 2 reported.
Photos of Sunday’s collision showed the right side of the bus wrenched apart. Channel 2 reported that a crane on the truck ripped the bus open, injuring and killing passengers seated on the right side.
Bitton told police Sunday that he didn’t notice the truck stopped on the side of the highway, and investigators believe the bus driver, through lack of attention, had swerved out of his lane and collided with the truck parked on the side of the road.
עשרות מתנדבי איחוד הצלה – רופאים, פרמדיקים וחובשים – טיפלו אתמול בפצועי תאונת הדרכים הקשה בכביש 1. כך נראתה זירת התאונה מרחפן שפעל במקום.
Posted by איחוד הצלה – הדף הרשמי on Sunday, 14 February 2016
The truck driver told police investigators he heard noises coming from his engine, so he stopped on the right shoulder of the highway. “Just as I got out of the truck, the same minute, the bus came and slammed into the rear end.”
The driver of the truck, an East Jerusalem man, suffered light injuries and was detained by police.
The bus was the 402 line from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak. It was filled to capacity with passengers, according to Channel 2.
A regular passenger on the 402 line who was familiar with the driver said he was often reckless and claimed he frequently broke safety codes. The passenger cited excessive speed, a failure to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, and a failure to stay focused on the road. The passenger told Channel 2 that an accident like Sunday’s was merely a matter of time.
The victims of the crash were named on Monday as Yaakov Cheshin, 27; Yisrael Weinberg, 26; Hanna Pesha Frankel, 23; Levy Yitzchak Amedadi, 17; and Aharon Mordechai and Leah Malamud, two children whose ages were not authorized for publication.
Cheshin, a young ultra-Orthodox man, was on his way to a blind date in Bnei Brak set up by a matchmaker, Walla news reported. Weinberg was heading to a family wedding in the same city. Frankel and her husband had just celebrated their second wedding anniversary; her husband was also aboard and was lightly injured in the accident. All three were residents of Jerusalem. Amdadi was from the town of Yavne’el, near the Sea of Galilee.
Sara Shpringer, 20, of Jerusalem, remained in serious condition at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Rishon Lezion early Monday morning. She was undergoing surgery, but a doctor told Ynet that there was no immediate risk to her life.
Shpringer’s sister was among the dozen people lightly injured in the collision.