Hike sentence

US lawmakers are calling for the Navy lieutenant to be released from his 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 a car crash that claimed the lives of two Japanese nationals.

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

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

He was arrested and held for questioning by Japanese police for 26 days, after which Navy Medical Corps personnel discovered that he had suffered from acute mountain sickness due to his rapid ascent and descent from the highest high mountain of Japan. Yet he was charged with negligent driving charges by Japanese prosecutors who argued he had fallen asleep.

In such cases of accidental death, the Japanese legal system often takes into account whether or not the accused engaged in gomenasai, the practice of formally apologizing and paying reparations to the family of the deceased. Alkonis did just that, including making a record $1.65 million restitution payment.

In the Japanese legal system, such settlements frequently overrule the need for a criminal trial or jail term, but in Aloknis’ case, the court chose not to suspend his three-year sentence.

Alkonis’ home state senator Mike Lee denounced his treatment in a floor speech on Monday.

“I find it inexcusable that an American who has experienced a medical emergency should be treated so badly by an allied nation he protected,” said Lee, who noted that Japanese nationals are routinely granted leniency in cases. similar.

The Utah senator also accused Japanese authorities of “trying to make an example” of the Navy lieutenant due to long-running disputes between Tokyo and Washington over the status-of-forces agreement under of which approximately 55,000 US service members are stationed in Japan, and suggested that the US should renegotiate the deal if US service members “cannot get fair treatment from the country they have been tasked to defend” .

The 1960 agreement was a point of contention in U.S.-Japan relations due to incidents in which U.S. military personnel committed violent crimes against Japanese nationals.

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

Mr Levin, a Democrat, said he was ‘extremely upset to learn that the case was not conducted in a fair manner for Lt. Alkonis’, and accused Tokyo of breaching the US agreement -Japanese on the status of forces.