Who Will Be the Next Victim of a Serial Traffic Offender?

Despite Ilan Gofer's impressive criminal history, he was released from custody to go on driving.

Israeli radio listeners cannot avoid the public service announcements in which media personality Rafi Ginat booms threateningly, "Driving while suspended - it's forbidden! It's criminal! And it's in your hands!."

Anyone caught driving while suspended faces prison, confiscation of the vehicle and long-term license suspension. But to judge by the case of Ilan Gofer, 37, of Kfar Sava, we should all be worried.

Gofer is being tried in Kfar Sava Magistrate's Court after being arrested in March for driving while suspended, uninsured and without a license, for impersonation and for interfering with a police officer. But despite Gofer's impressive criminal history, he was released from custody.

In its request for remand until the end of proceedings, the Central District Police failed to fully indicate the extent to which Gofer is a repeat offender, with numerous prior convictions for driving while suspended.

4-year-old died on impact, a brother the next day

In November 1989, a few days after receiving his driver's license, Gofer was driving in Kfar Sava. He approached the crosswalk at the intersection of Katznelson and Sprinzak streets as brothers Omer and Adi Wentsch, aged 4 and 7, were about to cross. Sima Reuveni was in the facing lane, closest to the children, and stopped to let them cross but when they reached the other lane, they were hit by Gofer at a speed of at least 67 kph. Omer was killed on impact, his brother died in hospital the following day.

Gofer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison plus an eight-year suspension of his license. In his ruling the judge said Gofer saw the children walk into the street and did not brake, "causing the death of the two brothers through his criminal negligence."

In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled on appeal that Gofer's mental state required examination and monitoring. His license was revoked permanently.

In 1996, shortly after parole, Gofer was arrested for driving while his license was suspended and ordered to perform six months' community service.

In 1999, Gofer was stopped while driving with a forged license in the name of his brother Yosef. He was sentenced to nine months in prison and one year suspended in a plea bargain.

In her ruling, Judge Clara Reginiano declared that Gofer had demonstrated indifference, insensitivity and a lack of comprehension for the catastrophe he had caused to the Wentsch family. Reginiano had been the prosecutor in Gofer's 1989 case but did not recuse herself as a judge seven years later.

In 2001, Gofer was again stopped while driving. He and his father Zvi, a former Income Tax Authority department head, claimed that the latter had been driving but their argument was rejected. Gofer's attorney argued that his client was "car crazy," and that his parents had sent him to a therapist over the issue.

"I see no way to stop him from driving, especially when he does not take responsibility for his actions and repeatedly attempts, using various trickery and deceit, to evade the law, except to issue a a lengthy custodial sentence," Netanya Traffic Court Judge Shira Ben-Shomo wrote in her judgment.

Gofer was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, two for the most recent offense and one for violation of his parole, as well as a one-year suspended sentence. The conviction was upheld on appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear a second appeal.

There he goes again

In 2004, after being released from a second prison term, Gofer was stopped while driving with a forged license in his brother's name. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison, one year's suspended sentence and a NIS 5,000 fine.

In March of this year, Gofer was arrested near his home while driving with forged licenses and an identity card in the name of his brother Yosef, according to police intelligence. "What do you want from me, I'm Yossi," the arresting officer reported that Gofer said. His trial entered the evidentiary stage last week. The judge? Clara Reginiano.

The courts spokesman's office issued the following response: "There is nothing to prevent the judge from presiding in the case in light of the considerable number of years that have passed since she was a prosecutor. No request was made by the defendant or his attorney to transfer the case to a different judge."

Attorney Haim Kennet, who represented Gofer in two previous cases, claims that "in the State of Israel there is no mechanism for sending a person who is fit to stand trial for psychiatric treatment. When a person understands his actions, he is tried like any other offender." Kennet claims his client became a social outcast as a result of his prison sentence and license revocation, and that his life was ruined over a momentary foolish action.

Gofer's current attorney, Aharon Rose, argues that the permanent revocation of his client's driver's license was "not a proportionate punishment."