Ridge Alkonis Released by U.S. a Month After Transfer From Japan

Lt. Ridge Alkonis, a Navy officer, was released from prison on Friday, about a month after he was transferred to the United States following his conviction in Japan for causing a deadly traffic accident, a case that had strained relations between the two countries.

He had served half of his three-year sentence in Japan and was expected to serve the rest of it in the United States, with an American agency deciding the length of his incarceration. That agency, the U.S. Parole Commission, ruled on Friday that he had already served a long-enough sentence. He was released the same day, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.

A lawyer for the Lieutenant’s family declined to comment.

In May 2021, Lieutenant Alkonis, who was stationed at the Yokosuka naval base south of Tokyo, was driving a Toyota vehicle after visiting Mount Fuji with his wife and three children. Lieutenant Alkonis “fell asleep” at the wheel, according to an accident report obtained by The New York Times. His silver Toyota veered off the road and collided with five cars outside a restaurant, fatally crushing two people.

Lieutenant Alkonis pleaded guilty to negligent driving in an effort to receive a suspended sentence. He also paid the victims’ families $1.6 million and wrote apology letters. At trial he said he had been suffering from “acute mountain sickness” just before the accident, but a judge disagreed. The victims’ families asked the judge to render a “severe penalty.”

Lieutenant Alkonis’s family and supporters insisted that he had suffered from altitude sickness and been denied due process in a foreign court system that gave little weight to his guilty plea and repeated apologies. They sought help from President Biden and other lawmakers for his transfer and release.

Mr. Biden was personally involved in the talks to secure the release of Lieutenant Alkonis, administration officials said last year. The conversations were highly sensitive, given American officials’ desire to avoid insulting the Japanese government by suggesting that they did not respect the country’s judicial system. Lieutenant Alkonis was released under a prisoner transfer program between the two countries.

Mike Ives and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

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