An Okinawa-based Marine’s blood-alcohol content was triple Japan’s legal limit Sunday when his vehicle collided with a minitruck, killing its Japanese driver, police say.
The Marine was “slightly injured” in the 5:30 a.m. JST crash at a Naha intersection, Okinawa policeman Kazuhiko Miyagi told The Associated Press.
The victim — a 61-year-old man — was making a turn when his vehicle was hit by the servicemember’s truck, which was coming in the opposite direction, Japanese media reports said. Witness accounts say the Japanese driver had the right of way, and that the Marine may have gone through a red light.
Miyagi told AP that a breath test indicated the servicemember had a blood-alcohol level that was three times Japan’s legal limit of 0.03 percent.
The drivers’ names had not been released as of Sunday evening.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, said a statement issued Sunday evening by Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
“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,” Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force, said in the statement. “We are still gathering facts and working with the Japanese authorities who are investigating the accident and its causes.”
Nicholson added that the Marine Corps holds servicemembers to the “highest standards of conduct,” and that it would cooperate with investigators “to the fullest extent.”
“You have my promise that I will rigorously work to determine the cause of the incident, and take every possible step to keep this from happening again,” he said.
A statement issued Sunday evening by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has requested that officials with U.S. Forces Japan and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo strengthen discipline among servicemembers and take steps to prevent future incidents.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty responded by apologizing and expressing his condolences “to the victim killed in this tragic incident as well as his family,” the statement said.
Hagerty added that the U.S. side would cooperate with the investigation and move to prevent future incidents, the statement said.
U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez has ordered that all Japan-based servicemembers are banned from buying or consuming alcohol.
The ban came into effect late Sunday and will remain in place until further notice, said USFJ spokesman Capt. Tyler Hopkins.
All servicemembers on Okinawa are under “Tier 3 Liberty Status” until further notice and prohibited from consuming alcohol on or off base, said a message issued late Sunday evening by II Marine Expeditionary Force.
“Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen must return to quarters and cease consuming alcohol effective immediately,” the message said. “Off base liberty is NOT permitted in Okinawa. Authorized leave is to be conducted outside Okinawa.”
The fatal collision could ignite further opposition to the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, where a string of alcohol-fueled incidents last year inspired protests and efforts to combat the problem.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in summer 2016 for demonstrations sparked by incidents involving U.S. forces, including the alcohol-fueled rape of a Japanese woman by a sailor and a crash involving an intoxicated Navy petty officer driving the wrong way down a highway that injured three people.
In December, leaders from each service branch on the island signed a proclamation urging military commanders and civilian supervisors to promote awareness of why people drive impaired, support programs and policies to reduce the problem, and promote healthier and safer activities.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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