Teens Involved in Fatal West Bank Police Chase Now Suspected of Reckless Homicide

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A protest in support of the suspects in Jerusalem, December 28, 2020
A protest in support of the suspects in Jerusalem, December 28, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The police suspect two occupants of the car in which 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak was killed last week of reckless homicide rather than negligent homicide. Sandak and others who were with him were chased by police in the West Bank on suspicion they had been throwing stones at Palestinian motorists north of Jerusalem.

Police also suspect the two of unlawfully leaving the scene of the accident while Sandak was trapped under the car.

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In the course of the chase, the police officers’ car collided with the car in which Sandak was riding, causing it to overturn. Sandak, who lived in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, died at the scene. The maximum penalty for reckless homicide is 12 years in prison. Leaving the scene of an accident carried a maximum prison term of nine years.

Police investigators said Sandak was left trapped under the car for at least 10 minutes because his friends had refused to tell the police at the scene if anyone else had been in the car. One of the two, 18-year-old Zvi Yehuda Katan of Jerusalem, was released to house arrest on Monday by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. The detention of the other suspect, Efraim Gozlan, 19, of Kochav Yaakov, was extended until Wednesday.

The judge explained that Gozlan has been ordered to remain in custody because he is suspected of driving the car at the time of the accident. According to the police, Gozlan claimed under questioning that Sandak had been driving, but police discount the claim and said they believe Gozlan was the driver, although he did not have a driver’s license.

Two other suspects had already been released to house arrest. All four are suspected of throwing stones at Palestinian motorists. Investigators suspect that the four tried to flee the scene of the accident while Sandak, who had not been wearing a seat belt and fell out of the car, was trapped under the vehicle.

Investigators suspect, however, that the four believed Sandak had escaped and did not know he was under the car. About 30 to 40 minutes after the accident, a crane that was brought in lifted up the car and Sandak’s body was discovered.

In addition to the investigation of the suspects, police involved in the incident are being investigated by the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit. Lawyers representing the police officers said their clients had acted lawfully in response to an alleged act of dangerous stone-throwing and that the accident was the result of the other driver’s ignoring the police officers’ calls to stop and his dangerous driving. The police said the driver of the car, allegedly Gozlan, drove at a high speed, at times on the wrong side of the highway, and attempted to prevent the police from passing them when the collision occurred, apparently causing the driver to lose control of the car.

The right-wing legal aid organization Honenu said Monday that a witness to the incident recounted that the police car was being driven recklessly. The unmarked police car, the witness said, “made a sharp turn, pulled out its flashers and began driving like crazy at the [suspect’s] car.” The police car nearly hit her car and a vehicle in front of hers, she stated.

Honenu said the investigation of the occupants of the car in which Sandak had been riding was an attempt at shifting the responsibility of the police officers for Sandak’s death.

The incident has sparked repeated demonstrations against the police, including a protest on Saturday evening in front of the national police headquarters in Jerusalem that attracted about 1,000 people and was marked by clashes between protesters and the police.

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