Find a list of your saved stories here

Japan should release imprisoned American, Mike Lee says

Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Dana Point, Calif. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to be in Washington on Friday, and a Utah senator says he needs to have Ridge Alkonis with him.

Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Dana Point, Calif. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to be in Washington on Friday, and a Utah senator says he needs to have Ridge Alkonis with him. (Denis Poroy, Associated Press)


2 photos
Save Story

Save stories to read later


Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

WASHINGTON — In a long string of tweets Sunday and Monday on his personal account, including quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial calling for Alkonis' return to the United States, Republican Sen. Mike Lee continued to push for the federal government to work with Japan to free the lieutenant.

"As I've worked on this case for more than 18 months, I've been left with the impression that DOD is way too concerned about offending the Japanese government, and thus being far too quiet and timid about Alkonis remaining (unfairly) in a Japanese prison," Lee tweeted.

Alkonis was convicted of negligent driving in the deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law on May 29, 2021, while the Alkonis family was driving down Mount Fuji after a day trip.


Japan shouldn't treat U.S. military personnel more harshly than it treats its own citizens, but it has done so with Lt. Alkonis. That's UNACCEPTABLE.

–Utah Sen. Mike Lee


A Japanese judge determined Alkonis had fallen asleep at the wheel and lost control of his vehicle, which plowed into pedestrians and parked cars in a restaurant parking lot two hours from Yokosuka Naval Base, where he was serving as anti-submarine warfare officer.

But U.S. Navy investigators determined that Alkonis suffered from acute mountain sickness and lost consciousness. His wife and children said that he was not sleepy and appeared to black out. They said that once he passed out, he was unresponsive to their screams and one daughter's kicks. He remained unconscious even during the crash itself.

President Joe Biden will hold talks with Kishida at the White House on Friday about North Korea, Ukraine and China's tensions with Taiwan.

"When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives in Washington later this week, he needs to have U.S. Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis with him," Lee tweeted.

Japan's new de­fense strat­egy warns that Asia is fac­ing the most challenging se­cu­rity en­vi­ronment since World War II, according to the Wall Street Journal editorial. Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton have to work to­gether to de­ter China, and Bei­jing would ben­e­fit from cracks in the al­liance.

"So it's worth ask­ing for Tokyo's help in mend­ing a growing rift by re­turn­ing a U.S. Navy lieu­tenant locked up in a Ja­panese prison," the editorial says.

Alknonis' wife, Brittany Alkonis, praised the Journal article in a tweet Monday. She and Alkonis' mother, Suzi Alkonis, plan to participate in a demonstration in Washington on Friday.

"The timing is perfect as I pack for DC to protest @SecDef@SecBlinken and @POTUS meetings with their Japanese counterparts this week," she said. "It's past time. Let's @BringRidgeHome."

Suzi Alkonis tweeted, "It is never too late to do the right thing. @POTUS NOW is the time to @BringRidgeHome."

Alkonis started serving a three-year prison sentence in July. Lee said the accident wouldn't have landed him in prison in the U.S. But even in Japan a lengthy prison sentence is likely only if the driver is a U.S. military officer.

"That's MESSED UP," the senator tweeted.

Lee has blasted how Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Defense Department has handled the situation, and did so again this week.

"@SecDef, please show America that DOD cares more about securing the prompt return of Lt. Alkonis than about causing mild and momentary discomfort for a small handful of Japanese government officials," Lee said.

Lee also tweeted at Biden to "please" bring Alkonis home.

"Japan shouldn't treat U.S. military personnel more harshly than it treats its own citizens, but it has done so with Lt. Alkonis. That's UNACCEPTABLE. @POTUS will have the chance to address the Alkonis case with Prime Minister Kishida on Friday. It's time to #BringRidgeHome," he also tweeted.

At a minimum, Lee said, Japan needs to transfer Alkonis to the United States to serve his sentence.

"That's not too much to ask, and yet his transfer request has sat unaddressed by Japanese officials for months," Lee tweeted. "This is so many kinds of WRONG!"

Late last year, the Defense Department declined to extend Alkonis' pay and benefits while he's in prison, citing a rule that says military members who are absent without leave forfeit their pay unless it is excused as unavoidable. The DOD maintains it doesn't have the authority to waive the rule if a service member is confined by civil authorities after having been tried and convicted of a crime.

Lee, however, got unanimous consent to amend the government spending bill Congress passed just before Christmas to continue Alkonis' pay while he's in prison.

Photos

Most recent Politics stories

Related topics

U.S.WorldPolitics
Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.

STAY IN THE KNOW

Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast