US lawmakers call for Navy lieutenant to be released from prison sentence in Japan

Members of Congress are calling on Japanese authorities to release a US naval officer who recently began serving a three-year sentence for his role in an accidental car accident that claimed the lives of two Japanese citizens.

Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis on Tuesday reported the start of his sentence, which was imposed on him by a Japanese court earlier this year after he was convicted on negligent driving charges stemming from a car accident in May 2021.

Alkonis was leading his wife and two children up a mountain road on the slopes of Mount Fuji after a hike just days before starting a deployment on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Benfold. During the descent, he lost consciousness and his vehicle hit several parked cars and killed an elderly Japanese woman and her son-in-law.

He was arrested and detained for questioning by Japanese police for a period of 26 days, after which the Marine Medical Corps personnel discovered that he had been afflicted with acute mountain sickness because of his rapid ascent and descent of the highest mountain. from Japan. However, he was indicted on the negligent driving charges by Japanese prosecutors who argued that he had fallen asleep.

In these accidental death cases, the Japanese court system often takes into account whether the defendant was involved in gomenasai, the practice of offering a formal apology and paying reparations to the family of the deceased. Alkonis did just that, including making a record $1.65 million refund payment.

In the Japanese court system, such settlements often negate the need for a criminal trial or sentence of imprisonment, but in Aloknis’ case, the court chose not to suspend his three-year sentence.

Alkonis State Senator Mike Lee denounced his treatment in a speech on Monday.

“I find it inexcusable that an American who has experienced a medical emergency is treated so poorly by an allied nation he protected,” said Lee, who noted that Japanese citizens are routinely given leniency in similar cases.

The Utah senator also accused Japanese officials of “trying to set an example” of the Navy lieutenant because of longstanding disputes between Tokyo and Washington over the status of the forces agreement under which some 55,000 U.S. service members are stationed in the U.S. Japan, and suggested that the US should renegotiate the deal if the US military “fails to get fair treatment from the country it has been tasked to defend”.

The 1960 agreement has been a sticking point in US-Japan relations because of incidents in which the US military committed violent crimes against Japanese citizens.

California Representative Mike Levin said he was “deeply concerned about the Japanese government’s handling of the case” in a speech to the House floor.

Levin, a Democrat, said he was “extremely upset to learn that the case was not handled fairly for Lieutenant Alkonis” and accused Tokyo of violating the US-Japan status of forces agreement.

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