Head to Head / Yael Greenspan, How Should the Drunk Driver Who Hit Your Sister Be Charged?

In an emotional, well-written letter she published on Facebook, Greenspan prompted state prosecutors to re-examine the plea bargain struck with the drunk driver who ran over Yael's sister Shahar.

At a time when Arab dictatorships are falling thanks to Facebook campaigns, Yael Greenspan, a 19-year-old from Netanya, stirred the State Prosecutor's Office into action last week.

In an emotional, well-written letter she published on Facebook, Greenspan prompted state prosecutors to re-examine the plea bargain struck with the drunk driver who ran over Yael's sister Shahar, now 13, leaving her unable to move or speak. The letter, which received media attention and stirred countless responses, encouraged Greenspan to continue her protest.

Yael Greenspan
Itzik Ben-Malki

On March 22 she plans to hold a protest outside the Knesset with the Scouts movement and other groups, calling for stiffer punishments for drunk drivers.

Mark Patrick, the driver who ran over Shahar, was sentenced to 600 hours of community service and a NIS 1,000 fine, and lost his license for six years.

Greenspan wrote on Facebook: "A driver caught talking on a cell phone while driving is fined NIS 1,000. A person who threw a shoe at a judge received a three-year prison sentence. The person who took my sister's life, who destroyed an entire family, will continue to live as though nothing happened."

Now that you have captured the State Prosecutor's attention, what are your goals in this campaign?

"I hope they will conclude that this sentence needs to be appealed and overturned. Beyond that, I really hope that our campaign brings some sort of change. I want to oppose the courts' approach. Plea bargains are legitimate when they are just. I am against them when punishments are too lenient toward criminal drivers.

"This isn't an 'accident.' An accident occurs when somebody makes a mistake; it is not what happens when a drunk person gets behind the wheel. This person got into a car with a blood-alcohol level four times beyond the permissible by law, so you can't call this a mere accident.

"Driving when drunk, running a red light - these are not regular driving infractions. They aren't accidents or mistakes; they are crimes. It is a crime when you are drunk behind the wheel, and it is 10 or 1,000 times more criminal when you hit someone.

"Judges and prosecutors must approach this in terms of justice and logic, and be proportionate. People should simply get the punishment they deserve."

Has anyone from the State Prosecutor's Office spoken with you since the Facebook letter attracted attention?

"They contacted us, and said they can't make any promises about what would happen, but they promised to remain in contact with us. At the start of all this, they didn't stay in touch with us, and when we tried to contact them, we were rebuffed. We asked to speak with the prosecutors, and when we reached their offices, the office assistant said that there was nobody to talk to, and that the trial hadn't started.

"That was in November. What we discovered yesterday or the day before is that the first draft of the plea bargain was written in September. The State Prosecutor's Office explained that it decided not to push for a trial, but also demanded an explanation for the light sentence. They said they could not promise anything, and that this plea deal will be found legitimate, but they are looking into the matter."

After your letter was published, did people with similar stories turn to you?

"Definitely. Many people. Everyone gave support, and agreed our campaign is just. Each person who calls and says 'don't give up' brings tears to my eyes. That's because this is really a worthy cause, not just for us - there are many people who have been victimized by miscarriages of justice.

"It happens time after time. Thousands of people feel helpless and victimized by the system. I have heard so many people say: This is our story, you are telling our story. There has been a groundswell of public support. We have been told countless times: Continue this campaign for us as well. So we've decided to continue for Shahar, and also for others in the future."

How did your life change after this accident?

"There was life before he ran over my sister, and life afterward, and there's little connection between the two. Everything changed. When I say he took her life away, I am not exaggerating: He took everything she had, because she was the most energetic person in the world. She never kept her mouth closed, she spent all her time with friends, and never sat still. She has none of this now.

"It's been taken from her. It was taken by one person, and that is terrible. My parents are not working now, and their entire lives are devoted to Shahar. They don't leave the house, unless it's for treatment or to buy food. If once we had priorities, there are none now. There is Shahar, and nothing else matters."

What would be a suitable punishment?

"There is no suitable punishment, but he should spend time in prison, no doubt. This is the person who took my sister's life; he can't keep living his life as though nothing happened. There has to be proportion in this.

"A stiffer punishment won't resolve all the claims, but the courts are supposed to deliver justice. Courts are supposed to maintain proportion between the severity of a crime and the intensity of the punishment. They should come to my house and meet Shahar, and tell me that [the plea bargain punishment] bears any trace of proportionality."