US naval officer in Japan faces prison over deadly crash

8News -- Jun 05
For Ridge Alkonis, a U.S. Navy lieutenant living in Japan, a springtime trip with his wife and three children to Mount Fuji was intended as fun and leisurely family time before an expected deployment.

What happened next, and why, is a matter of dispute. But it gave rise to a three-year prison sentence.

In the telling by Alkonis’ family and supporters, the naval officer abruptly lost consciousness in the car, causing him to slump over behind the wheel after suffering acute mountain sickness. Japanese prosecutors and the judge who sentenced him contend he fell asleep while drowsy, shirking a duty to pull over immediately.

No matter the cause, Alkonis’ car veered into parked cars and pedestrians in a parking lot, striking an elderly woman and her son-in-law, both of whom later died. With a Japanese court set to hear an appeal Wednesday of Alkonis’ prison sentence, his parents are pleading for leniency for an act they say was nothing more than a terrible accident but that prosecutors view as deadly negligence. He is home in Japan pending the appeal.

After the crash near Fujinomiya, he was arrested by Japanese authorities and held for 26 days in solitary confinement at a police detention facility, interrogated multiple times a day and was not given a medical treatment or evaluation, according to a statement of facts provided by a family spokesman. That statement says that when American authorities arrived to take Alkonis into custody and return him to a U.S. base, he already was held by the Japanese.

He was indicted on a charge of a negligent driving, resulting in death, and sentenced last October to three years in prison. The charge carries up to seven years imprisonment in Japan. He has appealed.

English-language court records obtained by the AP show that the judge expressed skepticism over the mountain sickness claim, citing an initial statement from Alkonis to police in which he said he felt drowsy after driving through mountainous curves. ...continue reading

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