Bus Driver Responsible for 6 Deaths Sentenced to 4 Years

YERUSHALAYIM -
Medical and Rescue personnel evacuate wounded and killed passengers from the scene where a bus crashed into a truck pulled over on Road 1 near Latrun interchange. (Flash90)
Medical and rescue personnel evacuate wounded and killed passengers from the scene where a bus crashed into a truck en route from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak, on Feb. 14. (Flash90)

The Egged bus driver whose actions led to the death of six people in a bus accident earlier this year was convicted Friday of vehicular homicide, dangerous driving, negligence, speeding and several other driving related crimes.

The conviction came as part of a plea deal, under which the driver will receive four years in prison. Sentencing will not be imposed until state prosecutors determine the amount of compensation he will have to pay victims, and subsequent parole arrangements.

Chaim Bitton was the driver of a bus in which six people were killed when his vehicle rammed into a parked truck on February 14th on Road 431. Bitton, who was driving the number 402 bus from Yerushalayim on its way to Bnei Brak, acted in an aggressive manner and failed to avoid hitting the truck that was in the breakdown lane on the side of the road.

Police investigators said that besides acting in a careless manner and driving aggressively in the recent accident, Bitton attempted to tamper with the vehicle’s “black box” – the recording device that keeps track of the movements of the bus, how fast it was going and other information relevant to the accident.

Reports in Israeli media quoted regular passengers and witnesses as saying that he was known to be a dangerous driver.

The bus driver had a history of driving mishaps. In a December 2013 accident, he hit a truck parked on the side of Road 1, in roughly the same place where the more recent and more tragic collision occurred. 18 people were hurt in the 2013 incident, none seriously. Afterwards, the report said, Bitton submitted his version of the accident to police, telling them that he had “failed to measure his speed in relationship to the other vehicle,” and as a result had hit the vehicle. “I realize that I am responsible for the accident,” he told police.

While the police investigator who interviewed him criticized him sharply for his carelessness, he wrote in his evaluation that Bitton was “an experienced driver who had a more or less clean record, and could not be considered a dangerous driver.” Bitton was given back his license, but eight months later police decided to file charges against him for unsafe driving. However, instead of prosecuting him, police gave him a plea deal, with Bitton sentenced to 120 days of public service. His license was suspended for 45 days and he was required to pay a fine of NIS 500.

Besides the 2013 accident, Bitton was involved in yet another accident, this one on Road 443 in December 2010, on the Modi’in-Tel Aviv route. Bitton was then driving for the Violia bus company (now out of business), driving late at night in heavy rain. According to Bitton, a car that passed him on the highway splashed rain on the windshield of the bus, temporarily blinding him. As a result, he said, he crashed into an oncoming car, injuring a father and a son.