Monday, February 24, 2014

Israel: Tour Bus Driver Killed 24 Russian Travel Agents, Gets Eight Years in Prison

According to The Jerusalem PostBus driver Edward Gelfand, 44, was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Beersheba District Court on Sunday (February 23), bringing to a close one of the worst traffic accidents in Israeli history.

Tragically, 24 Russian travel agents were killed when the Israeli tour bus driver recklessly drove off a cliff on their way to Eliat in 2008.

Gelfand was found guilty of manslaughter by the Beersheba District Court in September 2013. The court also revoked Gelfand’s commercial driving permit was revoked and prohibited him from driving any vehicle for 25 years.
The December 2008 accident occurred when Gelfand illegally and dangerously tried to pass other vehicles on Route 12. He was speeding at 98 kilometers per hour (61 mph) despite an 80 kilometer per hour (50 mph) maximum speed and numerous signs warning of dangerous curves.
As a result of Gelfand carelessness, and after driving off a cliff, the tour bus fell 54 meters (177 feet) to the ground below. 
Besides the deaths of the 24 travel agents, on their way to evaluate Eilat as a tourist resort, 15 others were seriously injured and another 13 experienced light injuries.

COMMENT: The truly sad part of this tragedy is that Gelfand was a highly experienced professional driver who bizarrely lost control of his tour bus.
The court rejected Gelfand’s statements that he had only been driving at 70 kph and that he had lost control of the bus because of problems with the road conditions. The judge also rejected excuses that the vehicle he was trying to pass had closed him off, that an object from the other vehicle had hit the bus or in some way forced him off the cliff.
The court concluded that in trying to overtake on a dangerous winding road with a 20-ton bus, all of the fault rested on his shoulders; he was also convicting him of the lesser crime of causing serious bodily harm.
A press release by the prosecution stated that State Attorney Moshe Lador had exercised discretion in seeking a conviction not merely for negligent homicide, a lighter crime, but manslaughter, carrying a much heavier sentence.
If given the maximum punishment for manslaughter, Gelfand could have faced 20 years in prison.
During his sentencing hearing, the Petah Tikva resident apologized for the incident and even said that he wished he had been among those who died. "On one hand I am alive, and on the other I am already dead."

Difficult as it may be, it is essential that all passengers aboard commercial vehicles of any type, at the slightest indication of a driver operating a vehicle recklessly, promptly walk to the the front of the vehicle and ask that the bus stop so that passengers can safely  get off.

Hopefully, such a choice is made by passengers before a catastrophic event such as described in this tragedy actually occurs.