The inventor of the construction method used in Jerusalem's Versailles Hall, which collapsed in mid-wedding six years ago, killing 23, has been sent to jail for four years.
The sentencing judge wrote that Eli Ron is the "father of the original sin who is still convinced that his method is safe."
Engineers who helped build the building, Dan Sheffer and Shimon Kaufman, were sentenced to 22 months each, while an employee of the Pal-Kal company was sentenced to six months of public service works.
The Tragic Wedding
The Versailles Hall collapsed exactly six years ago, in May 2001, killing 23 wedding guests and injuring close to 350. It was termed the worst civilian disaster in Israel's history, occurring just as Israel was suffering a wave of Oslo War terrorist attacks. In the week before the collapse, a suicide terrorist murdered five people in Netanya, two Israelis were killed in separate terrorist shooting attacks, and a Rishon LeTzion man was murdered in Tul Karem after making an appointment to meet an Arab. Eleven other people were murdered in eight other Palestinian terrorist attacks that month.
Owners Sentenced Last Year
In November 2005, the owners of the Versailles Hall were sentenced to 30 months in prison for causing death by negligence. Though they saw a depression in the floor shortly before the collapse, the judge ruled that they chose to cover it up with a drinks bar rather than consult with an engineer. In addition, during renovations on the building some time before it collapsed, support beams were removed from the building.
However, most of the criticism surrounding the tragedy has always related to the Pal-Kal method with which the structure was built. The Israeli-patented method was ruled unacceptable by the Interior Ministry in 1996. However, many existing buildings were built with Pal-Kal beforehand, and some were built afterwards.
Ron was found guilty last December of causing death by negligence in having disseminated his invention. The ruling deemed his Pal-Kal method as "dangerous," saying it did not meet Israeli or other standards. "It is true that many buildings constructed in this way did not collapse," the judge wrote, "but the quality and danger of a construction method are judged in extreme situations - and in this case, extreme changes were made that led to the failure brought about by the Pal-Kal method."
The Pal-Kal method is a money-saver in that in place of reinforced steel installed between concrete layers, it uses corrugated boxes as the stress support system. However, the boxes can end up "floating" between the concrete layers if something goes wrong with the concrete or they way it is poured.
As a result of the Versailles collapse, the government established a national commission of inquiry, the City of Jerusalem waged its own internal investigation of the tragedy, and the Local Government Center instructed all municipalities to carry out a comprehensive check of the thousands of buildings using the Pal-Kal construction method. In 2005, all construction using the Pal-Kal method was outlawed.
Versailles and Sbarros
The tragic collapse indirectly saved up to 50 other lives three months later. City inspectors making the rounds of public buildings after the Versailles tragedy informed Noam Amar, the owner of the Sbarro's restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, that his building technically met all the requirements, but that it might be advisable for him to install extra supporting pillars. Even after he learned that the cost of the extra columns would be $110,000, Amar decided to go ahead with it. Shortly afterwards, in August 2001, 15 people were killed in a terrorist blast in his restaurant; engineers later told him that his extra precautions had prevented the building from collapsing further, thus saving the lives of possibly 50 other people in the restaurant at the time.