The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Monday extended by seven days the arrest of a man suspected of killing eight members of the same family in a head-on collision between his SUV and their minivan.
The driver’s name was cleared for publication and he was identified as Laurent Ankri, 52, from Giv’on Hahadasha.
The entire Atar family — Yariv Atar, 45, and his wife Shoshi, 47, and their children Yaakov Yisrael, 12, Ateret, 11, Ayelet, 9, Moriah, 7, Yedid, 5, and Avigail, 3 — was killed in the crash last Tuesday on Route 90.
Police suspect that Ankri was driving under the influence of cannabis after finding some of the drug in his car after the crash. He has undergone a blood test; the results have yet to be published.
Ankri says he was blinded by the sun, causing him to veer into oncoming traffic. His wife and daughter, who were in the SUV with him at the time, were also injured in the crash.
During the court session, a police representative said that there is concern that if Ankri is released he will try to obstruct the investigation.
Attorneys for Ankri said they intend to appeal the decision to keep him in custody.
“I did not see any indication of cannabis use,” Ankri’s attorney Inon Haiman said after the hearing, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “This is a person with 91% disability. Doctors recommended cannabis use. It was not clear what was done with that, it is still being clarified.”
Police have said that Ankri did not have a permit to use medical cannabis.
“It was an unavoidable accident as far his responsibility is concerned,” Haiman said. “This is not a hit-and-run accident or abandoning of the scene.”
In a statement, Ankri’s legal team said that as the investigation proceeds it will become clear that external factors, such as the safety and state of the road, were a significant contributor to the amount of damage and the level of injuries.
The minivan carrying the Atar family ignited following the accident and some of the dead were killed in the blaze, according to rescuers.
Also on Monday, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court extended by three days the arrest of a truck driver who is suspected of causing another deadly traffic accident, also on Route 90, in which six people died on Sunday.
In that fatal crash, a minibus was shuttling a group of East Jerusalem Palestinian men in their thirties to their workplace when it collided with the truck.
The victims of the crash were identified as brothers Lutfi and Rajai Zahdi from Wadi Joz; Ala’a Qarash from the Old City of Jerusalem; Ahmad al-Ayoubi from Za’im; Majd Asila from Kafr Akab; and Majd Samara from Kafr Akab.
Video footage from the scene appeared to show the truck veering into the opposite lane, at which point the minivan, in an attempt to evade it, swerves and crashes into it.
The driver claimed in court that the accident was the minibus driver’s fault because he swerved into the path of his truck.
After coming around a bend in the road, the driver said, his truck moved across into the opposing lane. He managed to recover and bring his vehicle back into his own lane — enabling the car in front of the minibus to pass safely — but the minibus driver, apparently responding to the initial sight of a truck heading into his lane, swerved to the left, causing the collision.
A police investigator told the court that the driver has remained silent during his interrogation, and that he apparently tried to take the memory card out of the dashcam fitted in the truck.
The investigation has already revealed that the truck driver has more than 20 previous traffic offenses.