ROME – The three suspects in the Italian cable car disaster, which killed 14 people, were allowed to leave prison on Sunday after a judge stated that only one of them was primarily to blame: a service technician who deliberately disabled the car’s emergency brake because they keep blocking spontaneously.
Judge Donatella Banci Buonamici said there was insufficient evidence that the owner of the Mottarone cable car, Luigi Nerini, or the maintenance manager, Enrico Perocchio, knew that the technician had already deactivated the brakes several times before the May 23 disaster.
After examining the prosecutor’s request for continued detention, Buonamici ordered the managers released while technician Gabriele Tadini was allowed to go under house arrest. The three men still under investigation left Verbania Prison early Sunday accompanied by their lawyers.
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Fourteen people were killed when the cable on the Mottarone funicular overlooking Lake Maggiore in northern Italy broke off and the emergency brake did not prevent the cable car from rolling backwards down the support line. The cable car went completely off the line when it hit a support pole, fell to the ground, and then rolled down the mountain until it was stopped by a stand of trees.
The only survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, remains in the hospital but is conscious. His aunt takes care of him. Eitan’s parents, younger brother and great-grandparents were killed in the disaster.
It is not known why the pull cord broke.
Tadini admitted during questioning that he left a fork-shaped bracket on the cable car’s emergency brake to deactivate it as it continued to lock on its own while the car was in operation, his lawyer Marcello Perillo said.
Speaking to reporters outside Verbania Prison, Perillo said Tadini would never have left the bracket in place if he believed it could endanger passengers.
“He is not a criminal and would never have let people start up with blocked braking systems if he had known that there was even a possibility that the cable would be broken,” said Perillo. “He can’t even begin to realize that the cable is broken.”
Prosecutors hypothesized that Tadini’s managers knew about the braked brake and had a commercial reason to use it to keep the funicular running. Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said the owner should have taken the entire elevator out of service for the more extensive “radical” repairs required to fix the faulty emergency brake.
However, Nerini and Perocchio’s lawyers said the two denied knowing anything about Tadini’s maneuver, saying they had no reason to run a cable car without a braking system.
The lift only reopened on April 26 after a lengthy shutdown from Covid-19 and was preparing for the tourist summer season in a picturesque part of northern Italy.