Israel Police Claim Woman Killed on Mount Herzl as Result of Negligence

Suspects involved in the collapse of a lighting rig, which killed an IDF soldier are being held while police investigate charges of possible negligence; the engineer claims ‘it was a construction failure, not a failure in planning.’

Israel Police said Thursday that the collapse of a lighting rig at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem that killed an IDF soldier and injured five others was the result of negligence.

A hearing was held in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to extend the remand of the four people arrested as a result of the incident, suspected of involuntary manslaughter due to negligence and fraud. A police representative, Superintendant Isaac Simon, described the situation as the “highest level of suspected negligence I’ve ever encountered.” Police are also claiming that there are discrepancies among the stories told by each of the suspects.

Investigators Mount Herzl
Michal Fattal

The ceremony engineer, Oren Vershevsky, claimed in court that the company “Itzuv Bama,” which erected the lighting rig was responsible for the failure. According to the Vershevsky’s claims, the failure was not in the planning of the structure, but rather in the construction of the rig.

According to suspicions, Vershevsky was paid for work he did not perform, having faked the blueprints of the structure that collapsed. Police requested to extend the Vershevksy’s remand for an additional seven days, but the court ordered he be released him on probation. The police request to delay the release in order to appeal to the district court was granted.

The company assistant director of logistics, Elad Lavi, was also released on probation. In Lavi’s case as well, the release was delayed to allow for police to appeal to the district court. A police representative, Superintendant Cohen was displeased with the release of the two suspects. “There is suspicion here of a long series of oversights. A person was killed. A national symbol has been tarnished,” said Cohen.

“The question is not if the screw was tightened or if the correct material was used – rather much more basic failures,” explained Cohen. One of the remaining suspects, a director of the company was released without a hearing, while another, Itzik Tzuker, the safety director, was released on probation as well.

Police representatives stated in court that one of the suspects accused the Tzuker of forgery and fraud. Before the hearing, the Tzuker said: “I’m sorry over what happened. I know the Hila’s mother from work, and I am very distraught. It’s very sad.”

On Wednesday, in an interview with Haaretz, Dr. Amir Perry, chairman of the Israeli Society of Safety Engineers, spoke about the events on Mount Herzl. “This is yet another example of a series of systemic safety failures in Israel. Compared to the rest of the western, developed world, we are trailing far behind when it comes to safety at mass events. We have yet to adopt universal regulations for such gatherings.”

Dr. Perry, who holds an international certification in S.M.S., or Safety Management Systems, explained that the western world adopted a series of safety regulations for mass events following the disaster at Chernobyl, 26 years ago. Regulations include methods for identifying possible dangers, as well assessment and inspection methods that require engineers to take possible dangers into account before an event. In Israel, these regulations are recommended, but not required.

On Wednesday night, Second Lieutenant Hila Betzaleli, who died in the incident, was laid to rest on Mount Herzl. “She was only 20-years-old. Because some worker didn’t tighten a screw, her life was cut short,” said her brother.

In 2006, Itzuv Bama purchased the “Irgunit” company, which had been responsible for erecting the bridge that collapsed during the 1997 Maccabiah Games. One of Irgunit's owners served nine months in prison for that incident.

In 2004, Irgunit was ordered by the courts to pay NIS 13,000 in damages after a dancing stage erected by the company at a private wedding collapsed.

In 2008, the courts ordered the Irgunit company to pay NIS 400,000  for bodily damages to a worker critically injured from a work related accident, in which he fell from a stage being erected.

A representative of Itzuv Bama explained on Wednesday that Irgunit was purchased long after the Maccabiah Games disaster, and that there is no connection between Itzuv Bama and the way Irgunit functioned then. “The company strictly adheres to the regulations of safety engineers. The stage stood for ten days, and was approved by a number of safety engineers, in accordance with the required regulations,” said company representatives.