The wife of an imprisoned Navy lieutenant in Japan reveals the response of a young child
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The wife of a US Navy lieutenant who was sentenced to three years in a Japanese prison after being involved in a traffic accident that killed two people says she is doing everything she can to reunite his children with their father.
“These are really about my children, even though it is difficult for us, those who really pay the price for this and for the alliance and the policy are my children,” said Brittany Alkonis, wife of the lieutenant of the Marine Ridge Alkonis, to Fox News Digital. “They are young and in the first years of their life. They need a father.”
The family’s ordeal began after a hike on Mount Fuji in Japan shortly before Lt. Alkonis was deployed. The family had been in Japan for about a year and nine months before taking the hike as part of a three-year tour of the country, hoping to make memories for themselves and their children before he gone for most of the next year. .
But the memory turned to tragedy when Lt. Alkonis suffered a medical episode while driving on the family’s return trip, hitting two vehicles which then rammed two pedestrians who died of their injuries.
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“That day we started from sea level and by the end of the hike we were over 8,000 feet,” Brittany Alkonis recalls. “We walked until we thought it was getting a little too dangerous for the kids and decided to head back. We were only 5 minutes from our destination, Ridge was deep in conversation with our eldest daughter when he lost consciousness. We were only going about 25 mph, but he didn’t regain consciousness.”
Alkonis said she also felt nauseous from the changes in altitude, which caused her to tilt her seat back and doze off shortly before the crash. She did not open her eyes until the impact, while her daughter tried unsuccessfully to wake her father.
“It all happened so fast,” recalls Alkonis.
Lt. Alkonis was arrested at the scene, which his wife believed to be routine while authorities investigated the crash. But her husband was soon subjected to interrogations and solitary confinement and was never released.
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“He wasn’t a drunk driver, he didn’t fall asleep, but it just went downhill from there,” Alkonis said.
Lt. Alkonis would later be diagnosed with Acute Mountain Sickness, which is caused by climbing high altitudes too quickly and can cause sudden fainting for up to 24 hours, but the diagnosis was of little use in the system. single judiciary of Japan.
A lawyer for the family explained that it is Japanese custom to show remorse in court instead of trying to assert your innocence, leading to the family issuing a formal apology for the accident and paying a settlement of $1.65 million. They were told that more than 95% of people who follow a similar path are given suspended sentences, but Lt. Alkonis was given the full three-year sentence. An appeal in which Lt. Alkonis presented his medical diagnosis was also dismissed, leaving the family with few options for justice.
“If we knew he was going to jail anyway, we would have told them no,” Alkonis said. “The result of both trials was both beyond what anyone could have expected.”
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Worse, Alkonis believes part of the reason her husband is not getting fair treatment is that a high-ranking member of the court is a family member of one of those killed in the accident.
“One of the deceased is a family member of a Tokyo High Court prosecutor who has a lot of influence,” Alkonis said. “I believe it has something to do with his sentencing.”
Her husband’s case has drawn rare bipartisan attention on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, both calling on Japan to release Lt. Alkonis.
“I find it simply inexcusable that an American who has experienced a medical emergency should be treated so badly by an allied nation that he is protecting,” Lee said during a speech in the Senate last week.
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“Obviously the Japanese justice system is trying to hold up Lt. Alkonis as an example – possibly due to a history of disputes over our status of forces agreement,” Lee added. “He is being targeted because he is American – and because he was in the unfortunate position of having suffered a medical emergency that resulted in tragedy.”
The status-of-forces agreement, a treaty that governs issues between the US military and host nation governments, between the US and Japan, has long been controversial among Japanese people. While Japanese courts retain jurisdiction over crimes committed by US troops in the country, exceptions to the rules have sometimes caused negative sentiment among Japanese officials who believe US forces have additional privileges.
Levin made it clear that the Pentagon should do more in this case, vowing that he would continue to work to secure the release of Lt. Alkonis.
“I won’t give up on Lt. Alkonis and neither should the Department of Defense,” he said.
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The case also has implications for an alliance that has been stable for decades, which Lee acknowledged while also calling on President Biden to make the case a priority.
“We’ve been allies for a long time,” Lee said.
Ms Alkonis also hopes to involve the White House, noting that the support from lawmakers gives her “hope that the momentum is starting to go in our direction.”
“I’m constantly doing things to get him out of jail,” Alkonis said. “I’m going to DC in a few weeks for the purpose of talking to the National Security Advisor or President Biden, I’ll be there as long as it takes.”
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Meanwhile, Alkonis said the ordeal has taken a toll on his family. Unlike deployments, where she can explain to her children that their father is doing something meaningful and important, being in prison is something her youngest child “doesn’t understand”.
Communication is also difficult, limited to regular mail and two short 20-minute visits per month. The sad reality prompted Alkonis to focus her attention on freeing her husband.
“Hopefully something will come out of the trip to DC,” Alkonis said. “It’s important for children to see that we are fighting for justice. We are not asking for special treatment, we just want to be treated like any Japanese national would be treated.”
Fox News’ Ashley Papa contributed to this report.