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U.S. Base Worker Indicted over Fatal Auto Accident in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2011-12-02

A 24-year-old American base worker is the first to be indicted by Japanese authorities following a review of the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement.

The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office says that it has indicted the American over a fatal auto accident without arrest, following a review by Japan and the United States of the SOFA. Rufus Ramsey III was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a collision on Jan. 12th between his car and the car of a 19-year-old Japanese man that killed the Japanese man.

Initially, Ramsey was not indicted as prosecutors concluded that he was on duty. The bilateral pact gives the United States primary jurisdiction over accidents caused by U.S. military personnel or base workers on duty. Now, though, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to revise ways to implement the pact and allow Japan, upon U.S. approval, to prosecute U.S. military personnel or base workers suspected of committing serious crimes or causing major accidents.

Nobutaka Hiramitsu, deputy chief prosecutor of the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office, said at a press conference that the Japanese victim had no fault at all in the case in question. “It is good that the trial can be held in Japan,” he said, noting it reflected the hopes of the victim’s family. Hiramitsu called it a grave mistake for Ramsey to drive his car onto the oncoming lane, and that a Japanese suspect in a similar case faces a criminal charge.

Noting that the prosecutor’s office has been calling for the need for Japan's jurisdiction over such a case, Hiramitsu said he was glad that the case will be brought before a Japanese court. Ramsey, who worked at a store on Camp Foster, was deemed to be on duty at the time of the accident, and thus not liable for Japanese prosecution.

Because Ramsey was not indicted at first, the Naha prosecution inquest committee concluded in May that he should be indicted, acting on a complaint from the family of the Japanese man. The Naha prosecutor’s office has been reinvestigating the case since.

The new deal between Japan and the U.S. means that now, Japan can request the right to exercise jurisdiction in those cases that cause severe injuries or death, if the U.S. decides not to seek criminal prosecution. The U.S. must still give its consent for such cases to move to Japanese court.

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