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Suspects in Italy cable car crash released from custody; 1 sent to house arrest

Judge determines 3 men don’t pose flight risk, won’t tamper with evidence; they face manslaughter charges over disaster that killed 14, including 5 members of Israeli family

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, May 23, 2022. (Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico Piemontese via AP)
Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, May 23, 2022. (Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico Piemontese via AP)

An Italian judge has ordered the three suspects in the fatal cable car crash released from custody, with the service manager sent to house arrest, according to local media reports on Saturday.

According to La Stampa newspaper, the judge ruled the three did not pose a flight risk and were unlikely to tamper with the evidence, following the disaster last  Sunday that killed 14 people, including five members of an Israeli family.

The judge indicated that most of the blame fell on a service technician who intentionally disabled the car’s emergency brake because it kept locking spontaneously.

The public prosecutor of the Verbania province, Olimpia Bossi, has reportedly said the suspects carried out a “conscious action” that put visitors at risk.

They face multiple charges of manslaughter and negligent disaster.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, as seen from the aerial photograph, May 23, 2021. (Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

The man who was sent to house arrest is service manager Gabriele Tadini, who has told investigators: “It’s my fault… I feel a huge burden on my conscience. I pray and deal with myself. I will reckon with God.”

Though repentant, Tadini was said to insist the cable car’s operators did not think an accident was possible. The cable “was in good condition, it showed no signs of wear. What happened is an accident that doesn’t happen even once in a million,” he was quoted as saying.

Prosecutors have said they seized security camera footage of the incident showing the operator preparing to open the cabin door at the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, when the lead cable of the Stresa funicular snaps and sends the cabin sliding back downhill — eventually falling and crashing, with the emergency brake failing to activate.

Prosecutors have said several of the passengers were flung out of the car as it fell and tumbled down the mountainside until it came to rest against some trees.

Israeli victims Amit Biran, 30, his wife Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, and their 2-year-old son Tom Biran, who lived in northern Italy, and Peleg-Biran’s grandparents Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen of Tel Aviv, 71 and 81, have all now been buried in Israel.

The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)

The Birans’ five-year-old son Eitan is the lone survivor of the crash. He has since woken up in a hospital in northern Italy and started to ask about his parents, Hebrew media reported Friday.

Biran suffered multiple broken bones in the disaster, though doctors determined there was no neurological damage. He has been gradually taken off sedation as his condition improved. A hospital spokesperson said earlier this week that the child was apparently saved by the embrace of his father, who died when the cabin crashed to the ground.

A view shows a journalist working by a cable car’s wreckage covered with a tarpaulin on May 26, 2021 on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont, three days after a crash that killed 14 (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Hebrew media reported that a local psychiatrist had been appointed to help break the news to the child of the loss of his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents.

Italian prosecutors suspect numerous workers at the site of the crash were aware that the emergency brake had been disabled but did not work to address the matter or speak out, local reports said Friday.

Authorities believe the brake may have been deactivated numerous times over the years to avoid halting operations, according to reports in Italy’s La Stampa and Today newspapers.

Further arrests could reportedly be made soon. The three men arrested over the incident have admitted to disabling the cable car’s emergency braking system after repeated problems with the braking device, instead of fixing it, out of an apparent desire to avoid the economic consequences of a lengthy shutdown for repairs.

A police officer salutes as a hearse passes by, on the road leading to the Stresa-Mottarone after a cable car of the line collapsed, near Stresa, Italy, May 23, 2021 (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italian investigators were also expected to inspect the cable that was attached to the cabin. The reports said a theory under examination is that the cable snapped due to the disabling of the brake system.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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