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Y-plate vehicle suspected in Saturday Yomitan death

Date Posted: 2009-11-12

The bloodied body of a 66-year-old Yomitan man was found laying alongside a road in the villageís Sobe district late Saturday afternoon, sparking an investigation as to whether it was an accident or a murder.

The discovery of a white Japanese vehicle with the Y-license plate assigned to American service personnel in Japan at an automobile repair shop in Yomitan, about three kilometers from where the body was found, spurred further investigation. Hair was found on the carís broken windshield, and police have now ordered a DNA test to see if that hair belongs to the victim found on the road, Masakazu Hokama.

A telephone call about 5:15 p.m. brought police to the site where Hokamaís body was found. Blood was flowing from his head, but an autopsy later concluded that a broken upper spine was a factor in his death. Police say Hokama died of a broken neck.

The repair shop owner says the white car was brought in to his shop somewhere between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, driven by a man in plain clothes. The shop owner told police the man was about 180cm tall, and did not appear to be Japanese. The American Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Naha, Raymond Greene, says ďI think the situation is very unfortunate,Ē but has assured authorities the U.S. side will cooperate with police.

The Commander of the U.S. Armyís Okinawa base at Torii Station, Colonel James Woodard, has reportedly paid an office call on Yomitan Village Mayor Keizo Yasuda. NHK, the national television network, reported Woodard advised the mayor the Army knows who was driving the car involved in the accident, and has him in custody. NHK says Woodward told the mayor the carís owner was not in Okinawa, and that the Army would surrender the soldier who was driving the car to Japanese authorities, if they ask. Woodard also expressed his deepest condolences to the Hokamaís family,

Police say the left half of the carís windshield was broken out, and the front end of the vehicle dented. They say the man who took the car to the shop did not explain what had caused the vehicle damage.

Japanís Chief Cabinet Secretary, meanwhile, says heís going to verify whether the death could be considered serious enough for the Japan to request the U.S. hand over the driver. Hirofumi Hirano has told reporters in Tokyo the incident could be enough to have an impact on U.S.-Japan discussions over the Futenma airfield relocation.


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