Driver in Deadly Bus Accident Near Tel Aviv Airport Was Overworked, Police Suspect

44-year-old had driven for at least seven hours without taking a break because ‘he wasn’t tired,’ court hears

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Alexander Leibman in court, Rishon Letzion, December 23, 2019.
Alexander Leibman in court, Rishon Letzion, December 23, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel Police suspect a bus driver involved in a fatal accident on Sunday near Ben-Gurion International Airport hadn’t rested enough between trips, in what they told court on Thursday was contempt for the law.

Some of the driver’s superiors in the Egged bus company were also questioned, sources told Haaretz, as police say they would have to explain why he didn’t take a break.

Four passengers on the 947 bus from Jerusalem to Haifa were killed and 14 others injured when the driver, 44-year-old Alexander Leibman, apparently lost control, running into a bus stop on Route 40 near Bedek Junction and then going off the road. The four dead were trapped under the concrete side of the bus stop, which collapsed after the bus hit it.

Leibman could be charged with reckless homicide, police say, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, in addition to involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and other traffic offenses.

Police has sought the public’s help in reaching out to people who were only lightly injured in the accident and left the scene on their own, as they may be able to shed light on what happened in the seconds preceding the crash.

The scene of a bus crash near Ben-Gurion International Airport on December 22, 2019.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

GPS data from the bus’s systems showed it was going only 60 km/h at the time of the accident, which was within the speed limit, the bus company said earlier this week, adding that the driver had a valid license and the bus had been properly maintained.

At a hearing in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, police representative Senior Staff Sgt. Maj. Eli Sayag said Leibman had driven for at least seven hours without a break, whereas the law requires a half-hour break every four hours.

“He was asked why he didn’t rest, and he said he wasn’t tired,” Sayag told the court. But the law doesn’t leave this to the driver’s discretion, he noted, so “he should have stopped for at least half an hour.”

Sayag added that other Egged officials would also be questioned. The court ordered Leibman released to house arrest, rejecting police’s request that he be kept in custody for another five days lest he coordinate his story with other employees.

Egged said on Thursday it has no intention of obstructing the investigation and will wait until the results are published. It added that it has complete faith in the police and is cooperating with the probe.