Spanish journalist sentenced to 7 years for fatal Jerusalem hit-and-run

The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday sentenced a Spanish journalist to seven years in prison for the hit-and-run killing of a Jerusalem pedestrian in September last year.

Julio de la Guardia was charged in October 2018 with manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol after his car hit and killed Chaim Tukachinsky, 31, an ultra-Orthodox pianist, composer and conductor, at central Jerusalem’s Paris Square as the latter was returning from prayers at the Western Wall on the first night of the Sukkot festival.

De la Guardia was also charged with leaving the scene of the accident, running a red light, and driving over the speed limit.

He reached a plea bargain with prosecutors in June this year in which the main charge of manslaughter was reduced to reckless manslaughter, which carries a reduced sentence. Prosecutors had asked the court for the maximum 9.5 years behind bars for the crime.

In addition to the prison time, Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman gave de la Guardia 12 months of probation and ordered him to pay NIS 50,000 ($14,200) compensation to Tukachinsky’s mother and a further NIS 100,000 ($28,400) to his sisters.

Until he begins his prison term, de la Guardia will remain under house arrest, monitored with electronic tags and prohibited from leaving the country, Channel 12 reported.

After his sentencing, de la Guardia said that he expressed his regret to the family and told them “no prison sentence or monetary compensation can make up for the loss,” the Ynet news site reported. “My whole life I have not committed a crime and the question is whether a person should be judged for five minutes or for his whole life.”

De la Guardia’s attorney said he felt the sentence was severe and that the defense would consider its options.

The journalist was caught by police about an hour after the accident, and was found to have a blood alcohol level three times the legal amount.

De la Guardia had worked as a foreign correspondent in Israel for many years for a series of Spanish outlets. He was kicked out of Israel in 2011 amid a domestic violence dispute.

During the investigation into the accident, police discovered that de la Guardia also worked for a Spanish-language Iranian TV company under an assumed name. That employment was for a period of a few months, The Times of Israel learned at the time.

It was not clear why de la Guardia, 51, was issued a new work visa and allowed to return to Israel following the 2011 deportation.

After the accident, de la Guardia told police that, at the time, he was fleeing three Palestinian motorcyclists who were purportedly following his car.

He also said he stopped the car a short distance from the accident, not knowing exactly what had happened, but left quickly when locals approached him and he feared they would attack him. He later approached a police patrol vehicle with its lights flashing and told the officers it was likely him that they were looking for.

Tukachinsky, formerly a resident of Kiryat Motzkin, left his ultra-Orthodox yeshiva at the age of 18 to attend a music academy in Jerusalem, where he excelled in his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“I never understood why people raise an eyebrow when they look at me, a Haredi person playing piano,” he told Ynet in 2015, using he Hebrew term for an ultra-Orthodox person.

“For me, I’ve always been Haredi and always played piano. I strayed from the path [of religious study] and I left my studies in the higher institutions of yeshiva to be a professional pianist.”

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