Fatal crash causes U.S. military to ban alcohol, restrict troops to bases
Naha Police arrested 21-year-old Pfc Nicolas James-McLean stationed at Camp Kinser, on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and driving under influence, after a 2-ton U.S. Military-registered truck he was driving crashed with a light truck at an intersection in Naha about 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
The driver of the light truck, 61-year-old Hidemasa Taira, was taken to a hospital where he was confirmed dead. James-McLean was injured slightly.
According to Naha Police, James-McLean admits to the charges. About three times the legal limit of alcohol was detected in his breath after the accident. The Police are preceding the investigation in details.
According to an eyewitness, James-McLean ran a red light at an intersection when Taira was turning right, and crashed into Taira’s truck.
As a result of the accident and expected uproar, the U.S. military Monday ordered a ban on all U.S. service members across Japan to drink alcoholic beverages on or off base.
U.S. service members on Okinawa are also restricted to base and their residences. “The vast majority of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians in Japan serve honorably and make great contributions to the defense of Japan,” U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement.
“When our service members fail to live up to the high standards we set for them, it damages the bonds between bases and local communities and make it harder for us to accomplish our mission,” the statement continued.
On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference in Tokyo, “It is extremely regrettable that the crash occurred despite the government’s calls for measures to prevent the recurrence of this kind of accidents and for the enforcement of strict discipline.”
In Okinawa, Governor Takeshi Onaga lamented accidents and incidents by U.S. service members, saying, “We are at a loss for words over similar things happening repeatedly.”
Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Forces Japan, said in a statement, “I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident,” He also promised the U.S. military cooperation “to the fullest extent” in the investigation. “You have my promise that I will rigorously work to take every possible step to keep this from happening again,” Nicholson said when visiting Governor Onaga at the Prefectural Government Office to apologize for the fatal accident. Nicholson also expressed his condolences to the victim’s family.
Onaga did not seem to be impressed by Nicholson’s statement, replying, “We can’t help concluding that preventive measures against drunken driving taken so far by the U.S. side are insufficient,” Onaga said, adding that preventive measures and discipline enforcement promised by the U.S. forces are “utterly unreliable”. “It’s impossible for us to call (U.S. service members) good neighbors.”
Onaga again took the accosion to express his opposition to the relocation of the MCAS Futenma to the Henoko on Camp Schwab, and urged the U.S. to reduce its military facilities on Okinawa.