Two Versailles Wedding Hall Owners Sentenced to 2.5 Years

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court has sentenced two owners of the ill-fated Versailles Hall to 30 months in prison. The hall collapsed 4.5 years ago, killing 23 wedding guests and injuring over 350.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 12:42

Adi Avraham and Efraim Adiv, two of the three partners who owned the hall, were convicted a year ago of 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 rather than consult with an engineer. In addition, they even moved a drinks bar to the defective spot so that the depression would not be seen.

The two will not have to begin their prison term for another 45 days, in order to allow them to appeal. A third owner was sentenced to four months in prison, which will be converted to public service.

Relatives of the deceased wedding guests expressed bitterness at what they see as a light sentence.

During renovations on the Versailles Hall some time before the crash, support beams were removed from the building. However, most of the criticism surrounding the tragedy 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.

No one single Pal-Kal technique exists; a variety of construction methods incorporating Pal-Kal have been used. The 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 problem is that 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 has instructed all municipalities to carry out a comprehensive check of all buildings that use the Pal-Kal construction method.

Dr. Yoav Sarna, Chairman of the Engineers Union, said today that thousands of standing buildings built with Pal-Kal must be checked, but that a delay in the release of official government guidelines is holding up the work. "Not all of the buildings are dangerous, of course," he said, "but they have to be checked. We have been waiting for the guidelines for 2.5 years; if we wouldn't have had to wait, we could have done it ourselves. It's a dangerous situation."

Sarna explained that the problem is not with Pal-Kal buildings in general, "but rather with buildings in which structural changes have been made."

Eli Ron, the inventor of Pal-Kal, is still on trial for his role in the Versailles collapse.

Three months after the collapse of the Versailles, it turned out that the collapse actually led indirectly to the saving of up to 50 other lives. In August 2001, 15 people were killed in the terrorist blast at the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem - but that number could have been four times higher, had the owner not taken Versailles-related precautions. City inspectors making the rounds of public buildings after the Versailles tragedy informed Sbarro's owner Noam Amar 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. After the fatal terrorist blast, engineers told him that his actions had prevented the building from collapsing further, thus saving the lives of possibly 50 other people in the restaurant at the time.



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