Victim's Parents Fume as Motorists in Hit-and-run Get Just Three Years in Jail

A Yehud couple was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday for a hit-and-run accident last summer that left a 13-year-old boy in a vegetative state.

Pnina Toran, 26, and Omri Naim, 25, were found guilty of abandoning the victim, Amir Balhasan, at the scene of the August 2009 accident in Yehud and failing to stop or call for help. The two had agreed to a plea bargain.

Fatal accident by Ein Shemer
Itzik Ben-Malki

Balhasan was riding a motorized skateboard when he crossed into the road and into the path of the couple's car.

Yesterday the victim's father Yossi Balhasan weighed the verdict with that of Pini Cohen, sentenced to three years behind bars earlier this month for throwing his shoe at Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch in January. "Is that the same as the life of a 13-year-old boy?" Balhasan asked.

Petah Tikva District Court Judge Zecharia Caspi noted in his ruling that "the defendants are not responsible for the accident itself," and that prison terms in similar cases generally run between six months with community service to as long as 24 months. "In certain cases sentences were handed down of as much as 36 months - in each of those lives were lost, and the victim abandoned."

Yesterday the victim's mother Monica cried "murderer!" as Toran left the courtroom. The boy's father said, "I won't be satisfied with any penalty. My boy is handicapped, he doesn't communicate with me. The punishment I've been given is a thousand times worse than what they got. I had hoped that the judge would take his gloves off and say, 'That's it, enough. Seven years. Whoever runs away, abandons someone, kills a child or steals his soul will pay with seven years of his life."

He added that though he is legally barred from filing an appeal, he would do all in his power to ensure the defendants received a stiffer penalty.

"They'll serve their sentence, and in 30 days they'll appeal and might get a lighter sentence. Why? Are they so miserable? Do they have extenuating circumstances? Who's making things any easier for my son?" Yossi Balhasan said. "I don't know what means are at our disposal, but we're going to fight this light sentence. I apologize for comparing this to a shoe, but apparently that's the value of a 13-year-old boy's life in the State of Israel."

A growing trend

The couple's sentence follows a number of similar hit-and-run incidents over the last few months. Last month Shneor Cheshin, the son of retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, was killed while riding his bicycle near Tel Aviv. The driver in that incident, Tal Mor, was charged last week with manslaughter, abandonment and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

A week ago Kiryat Gat resident Shmuel Rothstein, 67, was run over while crossing a highway in Rehovot. The 19-year-old driver of the vehicle was pretending to have been in bed shortly after.

At a Knesset hearing last week on levying harsher penalties on hit-and-run offenders, Monica Balhasan said, "We tried to have some influence, not just for Amir. We tried to put an end to this ugly phenomenon of people leaving accident scenes, but it seems we didn't succeed."