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A Navy lieutenant is sentenced in Japan, his family and US lawmakers protest

A U.S. Navy lieutenant and Mormon missionary who lives in Japan has been sentenced to three years in prison, which his family calls 'shocking.' This is because at least two people died in a car accident that doctors think was caused by a medical event.

Through information gathered by the Pipe Hitter Foundation (PHF), the family of Lt. Ridge Alkonis says that there have been several violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Japan. Some members of Congress are also speaking out against his confinement, which started on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Japan Standard Time.

In a document that explained what happened to the Alkonis family, the PHF said that other military families are now "acutely aware that this terrible situation could have been them" and "fear" that SOFA may be broken again in the future.

Alkonis and his family lived in Yokosuka, and he had just finished a hike on Mount Fuji a few days before he was to be sent on the USS Benfold. He was in the military, but he also went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

U.S. Navy lieutenant
U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis has been sentenced to three years in prison in Japan.

Alkonis lost consciousness as he drove into the city of Fujinomiya. The family car drifted out of its lane and crashed into parked cars at a restaurant, killing a woman and her son-in-law.

The PHF said that instead of taking Alkonis to the hospital right away, he was arrested and put in solitary confinement for almost a month. He was eventually diagnosed with Acute Mountain Sickness, which can cause sudden fainting up to 24 hours after a rapid change in altitude.

The Alkonis family said that, in addition to negotiating a record $1.65 million gomenasai settlement, they also gave the family the customary "gomenasai," or apology, and wrote condolences.

Ridge Alkonis
Lt. Ridge Alkonis was driving his family’s car when he lost consciousness and crashed into cars in a restaurant parking lot, killing a woman and her son-in-law.

Alkonis's father, Derek, told Fox News earlier this month that Gomenasai has a "high value" in Japan's justice system. The Alkonises were hoping for a suspended sentence, which, according to the PHF, is "the norm" in cases like this when the offender shows remorse. However, Ridge was still given a sentence.

Mother Suzi Alkonis said on "Fox News @ Night" that prosecutors were wrong when they said Ridge fell asleep at the wheel. "He wasn't tired," she said. He never felt sleepy. He never said so. When he fell asleep, he was in the middle of talking to his daughter. That's not falling asleep."

Even though the Japanese Supreme Court, like the U.S. Supreme Court, chooses its own cases, Suzy Alkonis said it might be up to the Biden White House to make a deal with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to bring her son home.

Neurologists later diagnosed Lt. Ridge Alkonis with Acute Mountain Sickness which can cause fainting.

Some members of both parties on Capitol Hill are calling for Alkonis's release and criticizing the actions of the Japanese court system because of his case. This is very rare.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has been a strong voice in the Senate for Ridge Alkonis's release. He spoke on the Senate floor on Monday.

“I find it nothing short of inexcusable that an American who experienced a medical emergency should be treated so poorly by an Allied nation that he’s protecting,” Lee said.

Derek and Suzi Alkonis
Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis.

“Clearly the Japanese judicial system is trying to make an example of Lt. Alkonis – perhaps stemming from a history of disputes over our Status of Forces Agreement,” he said. “He is being targeted because he is an American – and because he was in the unfortunate position of having suffered a medical emergency that resulted in tragedy.”

Lee said that the case was "no way for a friendly nation to treat a friendly nation." He also said that it was hard to say this because the relationship between the U.S. and Japan is so important and good.

"We've been friends for a long time," Lee said next. He then echoed other people who support Alkonis and asked President Biden to make Ridge's case a priority.

Lt. Ridge Alkonis
Political interference has been alleged in Lt. Ridge Alkonis’ case.

The senator also said that Rahm Emanuel, who was appointed by Biden to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan, should take steps right away to get Alkonis released.

"It has nothing to do with just Ridge Alkonis and his family. It's about giving service members and their families the security and confidence they need, whether they're in Japan or somewhere else. They need to know that the U.S. has their backs.

Rep. Mike Levin of California, who is a Democrat, said that he was "deeply concerned" about how the Japanese government dealt with Lt. Ridge Alkonis and his case.

Levin said that the U.S. Navy doesn't agree with Alkonis' sentence. He also said that his office is working with the Pentagon to help Alkonis' family.

"I won't give up on Lt. Alkonis, and neither should the Department of Defense," he said.

A fundraising page for Lt. Alkonis linked to the Pipe Hitter Foundation said late Monday U.S. time that "domestic political interference is highly suspected" because the son-in-law of one of the victims works at the same office that prosecuted Lt. Alkonis.

"One of the victim's daughters is an attorney who represented all of the victims and refused to accept any letters of apology from Lt. Alkonis as is customary under Japanese law," the document said. "This directly led to the dismissal of his appeal and request for a suspended sentence."


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