Five Killed on Way Home From Lag Ba'omer Celebrations

Five people, including three children, were killed yesterday when their car swerved from its lane and hit a bus head-on on the Jordan Valley Highway, near the Moshav Argaman settlement.

The bus driver said he had no time to respond.

"There was no way of avoiding it ... he lost control and crashed into me ... I ran to the car, saw dead children and I couldn't do anything. I began to cry," he said.

The passengers in the Mazda 626 station wagon had been returning from the Lag Ba'omer celebrations at Mount Meron. In the car, Zaka rescue workers found a map of the holy sites in the north, phylacteries and prayer shawls.

The Dolphin Tours bus was en route from Jerusalem to Mount Meron.

The bus driver, who was lightly injured, said the highway was empty and he was driving 80 kilometers per hour when "suddenly a car came straight at me, after passing another car. When he passed the other car he veered to the right and lost control of the wheel, and after he regained control, he hit the bus."

"The car crashed into the bus headlong and to the right, then from the back, I don't know ... there was no time to evade it, it took exactly a second for the car to approach and crash into me."

The bus passengers were unhurt.

Police believe that the driver of the car, who was moderately to seriously hurt, fell asleep at the wheel, swerved and crashed into the bus. Shortly before the accident, he was stopped and given a citation for speaking on his cell phone while driving.

All the injured were treated at the scene by Magen David Adom medical crews, who were flown in on three helicopters. Police also were investigating whether the driver had been drinking alcohol before the trip. Police sources said he probably hadn't slept the night before the accident because he took part in the celebrations on Mount Meron.

At first police suspected that six people had crammed into a car intended for five. However, they said afterward that the station wagon had room for six passengers.

The children who died in the accident were between the ages of 5 and 10. Four of the six passengers were killed instantly, and another died shortly afterward in hospital.

Chief Superintendent Doron Yisraeli, who is investigating the accident, ruled out the possibility that it was caused by bad road conditions. "The road is straight and wide in that section, with good visibility and new safety strips," he said.