(AP) — The three suspects in Italy
's cable car disaster that killed 14 people
were released on Sunday after a judge ruled that the majority of the blame fell on just one of them: a service technician who purposefully disabled the car's emergency brake because it kept locking spontaneously.
Judge Donatella Banci Buonamici ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the owner of the Mottarone cable car company, Luigi Nerini, or the maintenance chief, Enrico Perocchio, knew the technician had deactivated the brake on multiple occasions prior to the May 23 disaster.
Buonamici ordered the managers released while allowing the technician, Gabriele Tadini, to leave under house arrest
after reviewing prosecutors' request for continued detention of the three. The three men, who remain under investigation
, left Verbania prison
early Sunday, accompanied by their lawyers.
Fourteen people were killed when the lead cable of the Mottarone funicular, which overlooks Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, snapped and the emergency brake failed to stop the cable car from reeling backward down the support line. The cable car pulled off the line entirely when it hit a support pylon, crashed to the ground, and then rolled down the mountain until it was stopped by a stand of trees.
Eitan Biran, 5, is the only survivor; his parents, younger brother, and great-grandparents were all killed in the disaster.
The cause of the pulling cable's failure is unknown.
The Piedmont region of Italy observed a minute of silence at noon on Sunday, and flags were flown at half-staff to commemorate the disaster's occurrence one week ago.
According to Tadini's lawyer, Marcello Perillo, Tadini admitted during questioning that he had left a fork-shaped bracket on the cable car's emergency brake to disable it because it kept locking on its own while the car was in service.
Perillo told reporters outside Verbania prison that Tadini would never leave the bracket in place if he thought it would endanger passengers.
“He is not a criminal, and he would never have let people go up with the braking system blocked if he had known there was even a chance the cable would have broken,” Perillo said, adding that “he can’t even begin to comprehend the fact that the cable broke.”
Prosecutors hypothesized that Tadini's managers were aware of the jerry-rigged brake and used it for economic reasons to keep the funicular running. Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said the owner would have had to take the entire lift out of service for the more extensive, "radical" repairs required to fix the faulty emergency brake.
After a lengthy COVID-19
shutdown, the lift only reopened on April
26 and was preparing for the summer tourist season in a scenic part of northern Italy.
However, Nerini and Perocchio's lawyers stated that the two denied knowing anything about Tadini's maneuver and that there was no reason to operate a cable car without a brake system.
Pasquale Patano, Nerini's attorney, stated that the owner "had no interest in not repairing the cable car" because he paid a flat fee of 150,000 euros ($183,000) per year for unlimited maintenance from a third party to keep the funicular safe and operational.
Perocchio, too, denied knowledge of Tadini's maneuver, according to his lawyer Andrea Da Prato, who speculated that his client was arrested because the prosecutor was under pressure to produce quick results in the investigation into the tragedy.
Perocchio stated as he was leaving the prison that he was "desperately sad" for the victims and would never have authorized disabling the emergency brake.
“I've been working in cable cars for 21 years and there's no reason in the world for me to do that,” he told reporters.