US Naval Officer in Japan Faces Jail over Lethal Crash

WASHINGTON — For Ridge Alkonis, a U.S. Navy lieutenant dwelling in Japan, a springtime journey along with his spouse and three youngsters to Mount Fuji was supposed as enjoyable and leisurely household time earlier than an anticipated deployment.

What occurred subsequent, and why, is a matter of dispute. But it surely gave rise to a three-year jail sentence.

Within the telling by Alkonis’ household and supporters, the naval officer abruptly misplaced consciousness within the automobile, inflicting him to stoop over behind the wheel after struggling acute mountain illness. Japanese prosecutors and the choose who sentenced him contend he fell asleep whereas drowsy, shirking an obligation to drag over instantly.

Regardless of the trigger, Alkonis’ automobile veered into parked vehicles and pedestrians in a parking zone, putting an aged girl and her son-in-law, each of whom later died. With a Japanese court docket set to listen to an enchantment Wednesday of Alkonis’ jail sentence, his mother and father are pleading for leniency for an act they are saying was nothing greater than a horrible accident however that prosecutors view as lethal negligence. He’s residence in Japan pending the enchantment.

“The phrase that involves our thoughts is equity. We would like him to be handled pretty for an accident,” stated Alkonis’ father, Derek Alkonis, of Dana Level, California. “We do not really feel prefer it’s been that means. We all know it hasn’t been that means. And it issues us that our son has been given a three-year jail sentence for an accident.”

The victims’ households couldn’t be contacted by The Related Press as a result of their names are redacted in court docket data reviewed by the AP.

The upcoming listening to is the newest improvement within the case in opposition to Alkonis, 34, a specialist in underseas warfare and acoustic engineering who has spent almost seven years in Japan as a civilian volunteer and naval officer.

Within the spring of 2021, after a interval of land-based assignments, the Southern California native was making ready for a deployment as a division head on the USS Benfold, a missile destroyer.

On Could 29, 2021, with the project looming, his household set out for an tour of Mount Fuji climbing and sightseeing.

They’d climbed a portion of the mountain and had been again within the automobile, heading to lunch and ice cream close to the bottom of Mount Fuji. Alkonis was speaking along with his daughter, then 7, when his household says he instantly fell unconscious behind the wheel. He was so out of it, they are saying, that neither his daughter’s screams to get up nor the impression of the collision roused him.

After the crash close to Fujinomiya, he was arrested by Japanese authorities and held for 26 days in solitary confinement at a police detention facility, interrogated a number of instances a day and was not given a medical therapy or analysis, in line with an announcement of info offered by a household spokesman. That assertion 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 cost of negligent driving, leading to dying, and sentenced final October to a few years in jail. The cost carries as much as seven years imprisonment in Japan. He has appealed.

English-language court docket data obtained by the AP present that the choose expressed skepticism over the mountain illness declare, citing an preliminary assertion from Alkonis to police wherein he stated he felt drowsy after driving via mountainous curves.

He later testified to feeling sudden mountain illness — a discovering supported by a neurologist’s June 2021 analysis — however the choose stated such a sensation ought to have abated as Alkonis drove down the mountain.

The choose stated that although it was conceivable Alkonis was affected by gentle mountain illness, it was troublesome to think about he went from not feeling drowsy in any respect to turning into instantly incapacitated.

A Navy spokesperson stated Alkonis stays on lively responsibility and that the Navy has offered him and his household “with the whole-person care and help they want.” A lawyer for Alkonis declined to remark.

The case is taking part in out in opposition to the backdrop of long-standing issues by Japan about dangerous habits, nonetheless sporadic, by the tens of 1000’s of U.S. service members within the nation and a way that they’re afforded preferential therapy. A 2014 AP investigation discovered that at U.S. navy bases in Japan, most service members judged culpable in intercourse crimes lately didn’t go to jail, with offenders as a substitute routinely punished by demotions, fines or removing from the navy.

This case is totally different, although, in that Alkonis is just not accused of performing with any nefarious intent, and he and his household say they’ve taken repeated steps to specific regret and to simply accept duty.

The household says they had been inspired by Alkonis’ lawyer to cooperate, plead responsible and pay restitution to the victims’ households — which they did, by signing a $1.65 million settlement, about half of which was raised from financial savings and family and friends.

“Ridge has stated from day one, minute one: All he needs to do is assist this household. He feels the burden of what occurred that day,” stated his mom, Suzi Alkonis. “All of us do.”

Eric Feldman, a professor of Japanese regulation on the College of Pennsylvania, stated that intuition is particularly comprehensible in Japan, the place the prison justice system values expressions of regret and the place fee to victims can generally avert prison prosecution. It is a system that provides specific focus to serving the pursuits of victims.

“There is a basic view that what you do not wish to do in Japan is to proceed to proclaim one’s innocence,” Feldman stated.

On this case, nonetheless, the prison case has not gone away, and Suzi Alkonis stated it was irritating that shows of regret can appear to truly work in opposition to her son within the courtroom. She feels anxiousness for her son, unsure of the lasting impression the case can have on his navy profession, but in addition ache for the victims.

“There are individuals who make actually dangerous selections and there is mercy for individuals who make dangerous selections,” she stated. “We really feel like we’d love a bit of mercy as a result of Ridge has spent his lifetime attempting to make good selections. After which to have an accident come out of the blue, it is already damage one household so badly — and it is hurting this one.”

Related Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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