Six died and twelve were wounded in an accident which took place at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday night when an Egged 402 bus traveling from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak sideswiped a truck parked on the roadside near Latrun. A cargo-crane at the rear of the truck ripped off the right side of the bus and crushed seats, killing six people and injuring twelve, one critically. The driver, Chaim Biton, claimed that he never noticed the truck at the side of the road. He was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter resulting from criminal neglect.
LIKE A TERROR ATTACK
The horrific crash resembled the scene of a terror attack. Many people hearing of the incident on the news thought it was a terrorist attack, especially when reports noted that the truck driver, Rizak Zarina, was an Arab from the Beit Tzefafa neighborhood of east Yerushalayim.
Rizak insisted that he parked his truck at the side of the road when his motor began making strange noises. He had phoned his father and brothers for help repairing the malfunction and was waiting for them to come and give a hand.
“Just as I got out of the truck, the same minute, the bus came and slammed into the rear end,” he said.
Some passengers claimed the bus driver was driving at high speed and it is suspected that he was using his cell phone as he swerved out of the lane and sideswiped the truck. As news of the accident spread, relatives waited anxiously to learn whether their loved ones were among the victims. Egged phone lines were jammed.
Six died in the accident, five at the scene of the tragedy and one later that night at the Sheba Hospital near Tel Aviv.
The fatalities included Yisroel Weinberg, 25, a member of Yerushalayim’s Slonim community, who was on his way to a cousin’s wedding; Yaakov Meir Cheshin, 27, from Yerushalayim’s Ramot neighborhood, who studied in the Nadvorna and Ma’alos Hatorah Yeshivos before moving to the Breslev Kollel in Meah Shearim, who was on his way to Bnei Brak for a shidduch and was immersed in a sefer until the accident took his life; Aharon Mordechai Cohen, 18, a member of Yerushalayim’s Rachmastrivka kehillah and a talmid of the Bobov Yeshiva on Bar Ilan Street; Leah Malmud, 61, a mother of 7 from Ezras Torah, who taught for years at the Darchei Rochel Seminar in Yerushalayim; and Chana Pesha Frankel, 23, from Yerushalayim, daughter of the Biala-Ostrova Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yerachmiel Rabinovitz, who died as she was thrown out of the bus window by the impact between the two vehicles. Orphaned from her mother as a young girl, she helped raise her younger siblings. Two years ago, she married Rav Mordechai Frankel, a son of the Botoshan Rebbe, who was slightly injured in the accident. The two were on their way to Bnei Brak to celebrate their second wedding anniversary.
Doctors of the Kaplan Hospital in Rechovot where Frankel was hospitalized allowed him to leave in a wheelchair and attend his wife’s levayah at Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim.
Yitzchak Amdadi, 17, a bochur from the Breslev kehillah of Yavniel in the Galil who learned in the Birkas Hatorah Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, was also killed. At his levayah, people recalled that he always spoke of seizing mitzvos before the day of death.
Most severely wounded of the casualties was Sari Sperling of Yerushalayim’s Neveh Yaakov neighborhood who was supposed to get married in two weeks. Doctors at the Assaf Harofe Hospital near Tel Aviv operated on her throughout the night in a desperate attempt to save her wounded limbs as friends and neighbors recited Tehillim in the shul next to her home in addition to tefillos and Tehillim recited all over Eretz Yisroel for her and other victims of the crash. Sadly, the doctors were unable to replace a leg which was cut off in the accident.
“She went to Bnei Brak to make arrangements for her wedding,” her father, Avrohom Yitzchok Sperling, told the media. “We are not a wealthy family so my daughters traveled to Bnei Brak [where it’s cheaper] for arrangements and measurements… Sarah’s leg was stuck and Brochah (her sister) tried to get her out. She said that she jumped out of the bus when she couldn’t get Sarah out.”
Sperling said the wedding would not be held in time but that he hopes to see his daughter dancing at her wedding whenever it takes place.
“I want to thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu,” he concluded. “We thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The first thing we thank Him for is that we are not alone. The whole tzibbur is with me and I know that because of this she will have a swift refuah.”
At Kol Torah Yeshiva where her chosson learns, a special day of chizuk was dedicated to her refuah shleimah. The tzibbur is requested to daven for Sarah bas Dinah. Her sister, Brochi, was slightly hurt.
PASSENGERS BLAME DRIVER FOR ACCIDENT
Moshe Glasner, one of the people wounded in the accident, spoke to Kol Beramah from the hospital and described how the accident happened.
“The bus driver was at fault,” he said. “The truck driver was parked at the side with emergency lights flashing. The [bus] driver was driving like a madman in my opinion. I don’t know what happened there.
“Fortunately boruch Hashem, I sat on the driver’s side [opposite the side that collided with the truck],” Glasner recalled. “One meter away from me, a person sitting on the other side of the bus died. I saw them putting a white bag on him…
“I immediately collected my wits,” he said. “Someone yelled at me, ‘Save me!’ I lifted a seat off him and took him outside. He yelled at me, ‘My wife is among the seats, go and fetch her.’ I didn’t know what to do. I ran into the road… I stopped people and told them to get an ambulance. People were dying here.
“It bothered me that ambulances didn’t arrive,” Glasner continued. “People were phoning and for a quarter hour people were suffering on the ground and ambulances weren’t arriving.”
Glasner said the bus was relatively empty.
“An elderly Jew yelled for help and even now, it’s difficult for me to know how I managed to lift the heavy bench on top of his head,” yeshiva bochur Yanon Yazdi told the Israeli Yated Neeman. “People like me, [sitting] on the right side of the bus, which was less damaged from the truck, were trapped under seats which broke and prevented us from getting up and getting out. I tried to lift a number of injured people next to me.
“I jumped outside and began stopping cars. Because the damage was on the left side of the bus which faced away from the road, people did not stop immediately. People couldn’t see the extent of the disaster.”
Another passenger, Rav Yitzchok Even, thought he would never get out alive.
“There was quiet, silence, and immediately afterwards children’s terrible cries of pain,” he recalled. “I uttered Shema Yisroel over and over! Shards of glass covered my whole face and I had no idea what had happened to me… What can a Jew do? I yelled out with kavonah, ‘Shema Yisroel,’ certain that these were my last moments.”
Veteran IDF servicewoman Hodaya Alter, despite being used to carnage, was horrified when she arrived at the scene of the accident .
“I suddenly saw a huge truck,” she wrote on Facebook. “Rubbing my eyes, I saw scattered debris of a green bus lying on the ground… Suddenly my bus stopped. The motor shut down and the driver of my 947 line went outside. We heard screams and terrible sounds. The driver yelled, ‘Is there a doctor here, a medic, someone from Magen David Edom or something? Come and help!’ The bus traveling in front of us was wrecked.
“I went out with a few other travelers… to the injured,” Alter recalled. “We saw the bus; we were sure it was a terrorist attack. I never saw anything like it in my life and I’ve seen terrible things. The first person I saw was lying on the road bleeding everywhere. There was glass in his eyes and his hand was injured… He began screaming fearfully that his wife was trapped inside: ‘Save her, save her, I don’t want to lose her.’
“’What’s your wife’s name?’ ‘(Chana) Frankel.’ ‘What?’ ‘(Chana) Frankel.’ …’Okay, calm down, breath, people are dealing with her now (at least I hope so).’ I tried to calm him so that he should not be more hysterical than he was already.
“I went to another person who was injured in the face and back. On the bus I saw a number of people lying on the floor, silent and not reacting. People were trying to resuscitate one of them, another was dying… People were trapped between the seats. Enough, I couldn’t take it any more… When I saw the first Magen David Edom personnel arriving I left.”
“It was an absolute catastrophe,” said Yisroel Perlstein from Ichud Hatzalah. “There was a woman whose leg was simply cut off from the force of the impact.”
BUS DRIVER REMANDED FOR THREE DAYS
The bus driver was arrested early Monday morning on suspicion of manslaughter resulting from criminal negligence. He is also suspected of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. During a hearing on Monday, a police representative said the driver had tampered with the tachograph (black box) on the bus, which records a vehicle’s speed, and removed an essential component. The driver claimed he returned the part and closed the box. Police were unable to open the device at the scene of the accident and are now attempting to verify the driver’s story in the lab.
The police have also requested a detailed log of the phone calls made and received by the driver’s phone preceding the accident. The initial investigation revealed that the driver had been involved in a previous accident on the same route on the December 26, 2013, although headed in the opposite direction, from Bnei Brak to Yerushalayim, when he smashed into a truck. 18 passengers were lightly injured in that accident, regarding which a letter of indictment described Bitton as “a reckless driver who did not understand that the vehicle in front of his was slowing down.” His driving license was suspended for 45 days and the company restricted the driver to routes inside the city. He only resumed driving the intercity route several weeks ago.
Travelers on the 402 route said they had noticed the driver’s wild driving and were surprised that Egged continued employing him. One passenger said Bitton once made such a sudden swerve that the passenger’s wife fell to the floor. Another person, Aharon from Yerushalayim, described him as a shor hamoeid.
“As soon as I heard of the frightful accident, I suspected this driver was involved,” he said. “He is a shor hamoeid. I criticized him a number of times in the past for his dangerous driving. He got angry and instead of taking responsibility and traveling carefully, he preferred to yell at me.”
An Egged spokesman told Walla News in response to complaints of the driver’s return to intercity routes that “Any driver, once convicted of a driving offence, is convicted in accordance with the law and pays his debt to society. At the end of the sentence, he returns to have a license if he is eligible and authorized to drive public vehicles, so the question is not relevant at all.”
Transportation and Communications Minister Yisrael Katz instructed the director of his office to expedite arrangements for vehicles to carry life-saving equipment and first aid kits. Two weeks ago, Katz signed a new regulation which will require buses and trucks to install a system that detects if vehicles veer from their lane or draw close to vehicles in front. His ministry will try and have the systems installed by November 1.
“The conditions on Route 1 where the accident occurred were optimal,” Katz said. “This was a case of human error, and a system preventing deviation from lane to lane may have prevented the accident.”
The levayos of the victims of the bus crash were poignant. The victims were suddenly cut off in the midst of shteiging in learning, helping others reach their spiritual goals, and raising Torah true families.
Rav Mordechai Frenkel, husband of Chana Frenkel, spoke of how she helped him shteig in his avodas Hashem.
“Dear Chana, your concern for me and for my needs was without end,” he wept. “You were my rebbi. You gave me advice like no one else could. There was no end to your wisdom. You constantly urged me to elevate myself in avodas Hashem. You put me on my feet. If someone hurt you, you never returned it. You had great mesiras nefesh and tznius. You were careful from loshon hora. You were perfect, but always said one should not consider oneself perfect, as anyone who thinks he’s perfect has nothing to do in this world.”
Chana Frenkel was interred at Har Hamenuchos alongside her mother, who passed away a few years ago.
The weeping of hundreds of girls from Darchei Rochel Seminar where Rebbetzin Leah Malmud taught for decades was heard from far away at her levayah. Hundreds from Yerushalayim’s Ezras Torah neighborhood were present at her levayah.
Rav Yaakov Gedalyahu Valdenberg, rov of Ezras Torah, said that at the time of her passing she was on her way for a dvar mitzvah. She was headed to gladden the heart of a widow whose granddaughter was getting married that night. Rav Valenberg spoke of the thousands of girls she taught halachah to over a period of thirty years.
“We generally do not say of a woman, ‘The crown of our heads has fallen,’” said her husband, Rav Naftoli Shlomo, maggid shiur at the Imrei Noam Yeshiva. “But for such a woman one can say this. She was a groiser rosh yeshiva. When I wanted to say a sevora, I would ask her if it was correct. She had the depth… from her great father. Hashem has taken half my body away. I now offer a korbon to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.”
“There was terrible crying in the school today,” said Rav Yechiel Mendelsohn, director of the Darchei Rochel Seminar. “She taught thousands of girls. Women from fifteen years back are phoning in tears.”
Her levayah continued to Har Hazeisim, where she was interred next to her parents.
Yisroel Weinberg, one of the top bochurim of Slonim Yeshiva, was eulogized by his brother, Moshe, who spoke of his sterling middos.
“You were such a good friend in the stormy times of life and in its ups and downs,” he said. “You knew how to rejoice in the joy of others. Who was not your friend? Srulik, only you knew the heart of another person.”
His friends spoke of his constant willingness to joyfully help others. He was interred at Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim.
Levi Yitzchok Amdadi was mourned by his father, Rav Hillel, a prominent member of the Breslev kehillah in Yavniel.
“I can only thank the Borei Olam that he passed away as a ben Torah,” he cried. “He visited the Kosel before the journey to daven for his success in learning. Levi Yitzchok, plead on behalf of Klal Yisroel in the yeshiva shel ma’alah.
“Morai verabbosai,” he continued. “I think we must all strengthen ourselves at a time like this in bein adam lechaveiro and increase unity. Rabbosai, we are paying too many sacrifices. May Hashem save us, we all need to say we are guilty. We need to see how we can make peace. Controversy is fire. Even if one’s intent is lesheim Shomayim, it burns! We must strengthen ourselves.”
Hundreds of bochurim from the Eitz Chaim Bobov Yeshiva in Bnei Brak attended the levayah of Aharon Mordechai Cohen. His mashgiach, Rav Meir Luriah, cried out, “He was pure olive oil, he was the pearl of the yeshiva.”
“He was an example for every bochur in the yeshiva,” said his rosh yeshiva, Rav Michael Heller. “He was taken from us because of our wrongdoings, not for his own,” said Rav Yeshayahu Rosenbaum. “Instead of enwrapping him in a kittel, we are wrapping him in tachrichim.”
His levayah proceeded from Bnei Brak to Yerushalayim, where it passed the Rachmastrivka beis medrash before continuing to Har Hamenuchos.
Hundreds of Breslev and Nadvorna chassidim mourned at the levayah of Yaakov Meir Cheshin in Yerushalayim.
He was eulogized by the mashgiach of the Ma’amar Mordechai Nadvorna Yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Kalish; Rav Osher Weiss, ga’avad of the Darchei Torah kehillah; and the rebbe of Zvhil. They spoke of how he completed Shas this year and learned all six sedorim of Mishnayos hundreds of times. They spoke of his amazing hasmodah, heartfelt davening, and how he recited the entire Sefer Tehillim every day.
“Every day he spoke of the day of death and how one should seize more and more mitzvos before the day came,” said his father, Rav Yisroel Cheshin.
He was interred on Har Hamenuchos.