Court Finds Hit-and-run Driver Guilty of Manslaughter

The Tel Aviv District Court yesterday found Shai Simon guilty of manslaughter in the death of Meital Aharonson in a hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv in October 2008, and of causing grievous bodily harm to Aharonson's friend, Mali Yazdi, as the two were crossing Ibn Gvirol Street. Shalom Yemini, who was charged together with Simon, was acquitted of those charges, but convicted of leaving the scene. The court ruled that he was not driving the vehicle that hit the two victims.

The initial indictment against Simon and Yemini also included allegations of driving while intoxicated, destruction of evidence and other offenses. The indictment alleged that after going out for the evening in the Tel Aviv port, the two were stopped by police, who wanted to check whether the driver of their vehicle, an SUV, was intoxicated, but the two drove off. The indictment said that Simon was apparently driving the SUV when the police stopped them, but Yemini was driving when the vehicle later hit Aharonson and Yazdi.

According to the indictment, following the accident, they switched drivers again and later abandoned the car. Yemini is alleged to have threatened Simon to remove fingerprints or any other evidence on the vehicle linking them to the case. The initial indictment was based on the version of events that Simon gave police. Yemini maintained his silence on the incident.

In May 2009, following Simon's testimony in court, the prosecution asked that the indictment be amended to show that he was the driver at the time of the accident, citing changes in his version of events. The prosecution left manslaughter charges pending against both defendants, claiming that had acted together.

The judge in the case, Zvi Gurfinkel, rejected the request to amend the indictment, saying it would prevent the court from determining the identity of the driver during the accident.

Yesterday, Gurfinkel handed down a final ruling saying there were irregularities in Simon's story, and that some of his testimony defied common sense or contradicted other evidence. The judge concluded that it was Simon who was driving when Aharonson and Yazdi were hit.

Following the verdict, Simon's lawyer, Haim Misgav, claimed the evidence does not point to the fact that his client was indeed driving when the pedestrians were hit. He said he would appeal the conviction.

Yemini's lawyer, Mordechai Katz, criticized the judge's decision to convict his client for leaving the scene even though he was the passenger and not the driver.

Meital Aharonson's mother, Liora, called the judge's verdict courageous, but added, "Still we no longer have [our] child."