Italy judge releases three held in jail over cable car crash, one under house arrest

Italy judge releases three held in jail over cable car crash, one under house arrest
By Reuters
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By Valentina Za, Stephen Jewkes and Angelo Amante

MILAN -An Italian judge ruled late on Saturday that three men detained over a cable car crash that killed 14 people in northern Italy could leave prison, with one of them being placed under house arrest.

In the crash a week ago, the gondola on a cable way connecting the Lake Maggiore resort town of Stresa to a nearby mountain plunged to the ground, killing all aboard apart from a five-year-old Israeli boy who remains in hospital.

Police arrested the three men on Wednesday after prosecutors in the city of Verbania opened an investigation into suspected involuntary manslaughter and negligence.

Judge Donatella Banci Buonamici ruled on Saturday there were no grounds for keeping them in jail since they could not run away and there was no risk of evidence being tampered with.

Prosecutors have alleged the three men - the owner of the cable-car company, an employee and an engineer who dealt with maintenance - were aware of the lift's technical problems. The prosecutors said in a legal filing the three had deliberately placed fork-shaped clamps on the emergency brakes to avoid them being constantly activated.

"I'm aware of the mistake I made leaving the clamps on," Gabriele Tadini told prosecutors, according to the official transcript of his interview quoted by Sunday's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Tadini was in charge of putting the lift in motion, which he did on May 23 just a few hours before the crash.

Tadini has been placed under house arrest. His lawyer, Marcello Perillo, told Reuters he had not requested Tadini's release after his admission.

"There is no denying the issue of the clasps, for that he will have to face consequences," Perillo said, adding it was yet to be established to which extent the other two had been informed of Tadini's actions.

"There is no proof at present they were also responsible. They are people who should have known, but it's not clear if they did."

Verbania Chief Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told reporters the judge had decided there was no sufficient proof Luigi Nerini, owner of the company operating the lift, and Enrico Perocchio, the engineer who was in charge of maintenance and safety, were aware of the situation.

"In any case the investigation continues, we still don't know why the cable broke in the first place," Bossi said.

Leaving Verbania prison on Saturday night, Perocchio told reporters that he had no idea that the brakes that should have prevented the gondola from crashing when the cable gave way had been blocked.

"I've got 21 years of experience with lifts that use cables, I know that's something you don't ever, ever do," Perocchio said.

Nerini's lawyer, Pasquale Pantano, told reporters on Saturday night the release was welcome news but the main thing was to find out who was responsible for the disaster.

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