Bus Driver in Fatal Central Israel Crash Arrested, May Have Removed Vehicle's 'Black Box'

Haim Biton was involved in similar accident in 2013; names of six fatalities in Sunday's accident are released.

Paramedics helping the injured at the scene of the Feb. 14, 2016 bus crash on Route 1.
Gil Cohen Magen

The Egged bus driver involved in the fatal accident Sunday night on Route 1 was arrested Monday morning on suspicion of causing death by negligence.

The police said its preliminary investigation showed that the driver, Haim Biton, 40, had become distracted while driving, which is why he crashed the No. 402 bus into a truck that was stopped on the side of the road.

The Jerusalem Traffic Court extended Biton’s remand by two days. During the hearing the police attorney said Biton is also suspected of tampering with evidence because after the collision he removed the recording disk from the bus’ tachograph, the device that documents the vehicle’s speed and distance and the driver’s activity.

Six people were killed in the collision and 12 others were injured, one seriously. The dead were identified yesterday as Yaakov Cheshin, 27; Yisrael Weinberg, 26; Aharon Mordechai, 18; Leah Malamud, 50 and Chana Pesha Frenkel, 23, all of Jerusalem, and Levi Yitzhak Amdadi, 17 of Yavniel. The passenger in serious condition, Sara Springer of Jerusalem, is supposed to be married in a few weeks.

During the hearing it also emerged that Biton was involved in a similar accident in 2013. Driving the same bus route, just a few kilometers from the site of Sunday’s crash he collided with a truck that was parked on the shoulder. Eighteen people were lightly injured in that collision. The police said a special investigating team of traffic inspectors and investigators has been set up to look into Sunday’s accident, overseen by Traffic Division commander Maj. Gen. Yaron Be’eri.

In his decision to extend Biton’s remand, Judge Naeel Mohana wrote, “Based on the investigation file before me there are investigative measures and other actions that cannot be carried out when the respondent is free. At issue is a fatal accident which establishes a presumption of risk, and the danger is even greater given the tragic result and the fact that the respondent has an accident in his past that occurred in 2013, which fortunately did not end with a similar result. With that, a short period is enough to reduce the harm to the respondent’s freedom while giving investigators time to do their work without interference.”

The preliminary investigation showed that the truck driver was forced to stop at the side of Route 1 between the Latrun and Anava exits due to a mechanical problem, apparently an oil leak. Shortly afterward the bus, which was traveling from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, swerved from its lane and its right side hit the truck, tearing that side of the bus open. Both drivers were questioned after the accident, but the truck driver was released.

“Unfortunately we are witness to many fatal accidents caused by the human factor — irresponsible behavior by the driver that leads to a loss of life,” the police said in a statement. “Every distraction while driving, like using a cellphone or being busy with anything else, poses a real risk to life.”

The police also called on drivers to understand the risks of stopping on the side of the road. “In general, one should not stop on the shoulder, but rather at bays designated for that purpose,” they said. “If a driver has a problem with his vehicle, he must stop on the shoulder as far as possible from the traffic lane, use warning signs, and call the police hotline at 100 and a patrol car will come to assist. The driver and passengers should stand behind the safety rail.”