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Soccer player gets 4.5 years for leaving scene of hit-and-run that killed teen

Father of Ari Nesher, 17, who died after car slammed into electric bike he was riding with a friend, complains sentence for abandoning scene is too lenient on driver Yitzhak Asefa

Israeli Premier League soccer player Yitzhak Asefa arrives to hear the verdict in his hit-and-run trial at the Tel Aviv District Court on January 30, 2020. (Flash90)
Israeli Premier League soccer player Yitzhak Asefa arrives to hear the verdict in his hit-and-run trial at the Tel Aviv District Court on January 30, 2020. (Flash90)

The Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday sentenced an Israeli soccer player to 4.5 years in prison for abandoning the scene of an accident and obstructing the subsequent investigation after the 2018 hit-and-run killing of a teen riding on an electric bike with a friend.

Yitzhak Asefa, a soccer player for the Israel Premier League’s F.C. Ashdod team, was also ordered to pay NIS 20,000 ($5,796) to the family of Ari Nesher, 17, who died following the accident, and another NIS 5,000 ($1,449) to the family of the other teenager who was riding the bike.

Asefa’s defense team had asked for community service.

Nesher, the son of acclaimed Israeli film director Avi Nesher, was seriously injured in the September 2018 accident and succumbed to his wounds four days later. His friend, whose name has not been released, was also injured.

Asefa drove into the pair of teenagers and left them lying in the road before trying to cover up his involvement in the collision by repairing the damage to the car and lying to police.

He was convicted in September of abandoning Nesher and obstructing justice, but was acquitted by the judge on the additional charges of drunk driving and speeding on the grounds of reasonable doubt because evidence was collected two hours after the accident.

Israeli film maker Avi Nesher speaks to the media after the verdict in the trial of Israeli Premier League soccer player Yitzhak Asefa, at the Tel Aviv District Court on January 30, 2020. (Flash90)

“This is a very difficult day for us,” Avi Nesher told media after the sentencing. “Nothing will bring Ari back to us. Nothing will change the terrible loss.”

“Abandonment is an act of murder,” he said. “He could have got out [of the car] and called for help, called an ambulance. He knew that if he ran away he is condemning him to death, and that’s what he did. Just like that.”

Noting that the maximum sentence could have been 14 years behind bars, Avi Nesher said that Asefa, who “dragged us through a year and a half of unbelievable and delusional lies by slick lawyers,” had “got off lightly.”

A stiffer sentence, he said, would contribute to “save the life of the next youth who lies bleeding on the asphalt.”

Prosecutor Rotem Neumann Wasserman said the sentence “expressed the seriousness of abandoning [a road accident] and sent a resonant message to the driving public.”

Asefa’s lawyer Lior Shtelzer said: “We respect the decision, but it is a punishment inconsistent with the punishment for incidents like this. The penalty is appropriate for cases where there is responsibility for the accident itself – and that is not the case.”

Shtelzer said he would study the sentence and then consider what further steps to take, including appealing the sentence.

Ari Nesher. (Facebook)

Asefa did not face charges accusing him of responsibility for Nesher’s death because police blamed the teenager’s friend for the accident.

In January, the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office said it intended to press manslaughter charges, pending a hearing, against the teenage boy who was driving the electric bicycle at the time of the accident. Police accused the teen of carrying Nesher as a second passenger on the bike, swerving into the car’s path, and riding without a helmet. The manslaughter case was eventually closed in September.

That Ashdod soccer club Asefa plays for responded to the sentence in a statement saying it “grieves the pain of the Nesher family and express deep sorrow for its loss.”

The club said it will continue to stand alongside the player and noted that since the accident it has been working with teenagers on “a variety of educational and social activities…on road safety” to “prevent further incidents that we hope will never occur.”

According to the original indictment, Asefa, 20, began the evening celebrating a friend’s birthday at club where, together with three others, he consumed three bottles of vodka before the group left to go to another party.

At around 3:35 a.m., Asefa, who was alone in the car, was driving along Rokach Boulevard when the electric bike swerved into his path and he hit the two boys. The force of the collision threw Nesher 23 meters (75 feet) down the road, prosecutors said.

Asefa waited there a short while, then continued moving slowly forward, stopped again and then drove away.

Screen capture from video of a fatal hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv, September 24, 2018. (YouTube)

Later that evening, Asefa asked a friend to call the Eldan rental car company and tell them the car had been in an accident and asked for a tow truck to take it to a garage to be repaired, “with the intention of preventing or obstructing a judicial proceeding,” prosecutors wrote.

At some point during the night, he returned to the scene of the accident with his friend and found the police there with bits of the car scattered in the road, but did not present himself to officers, instead returning to his home.

At 5:20 a.m., police arrived looking for the car, which had been spotted leaving the scene of the accident. When they saw the damage to Asefa’s car, they asked him to explain it and he lied, telling them the car was damaged while it was parked on Ibn Gabirol and he was at the club. He claimed that a friend of his had been driving it, the indictment said.

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