Tokyo The family of a US Navy officer sentenced to three years in prison in Japan for a fatal car accident is torn apart. For months, they hoped that a judge in an appeals court would suspend Lieutenant Ridge Alconis’ three-year sentence, which they insist was an innocent accident.
He was convicted of killing two pedestrians after blacking out at the wheel of the family car in May 2021.
In an exclusive interview, Alconis’s wife told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer that she didn’t understand it when it was read in court. But her husband understands Japanese, and he did.
“When I saw his face, I knew we were lost,” she said. “I was heartbroken, and the first thought that came to my mind was that I had to go home and tell my kids that they weren’t going to see their father for three years.”
The high court judge did not accept that Alconis had lost consciousness due to altitude sickness, a US Navy assessment. Instead, in the judge’s opinion, the naval officer had fallen asleep behind the wheel. If he was tired, he said, he should have got off the road.
“But he wasn’t tired,” Brittany Alconis told CBS News. “He was fine and alert. He had also noticed that I was at risk of getting car sick and told me to be careful.”
No one knows for certain why Alconis died. Neither the Japanese police nor the US Navy conducted a full medical examination during the 26 days before he was charged.
“I’m really angry,” Brittany told CBS News. “We have been told this is the most serious action against a service member in 60 years.”
The US Navy told “Stars and Stripes” newspaper that it was “disappointed by the result, which we believe is unusually disproportionate.”
But this sad story is running against aagainst US military personnel. Popular belief is that they are saved by the military from facing justice for crimes committed in Japan.
Brittany told Palmer, “I’ve heard that argument, and I wouldn’t deny it some truth.” But she added: “It has certainly changed in the last two to three decades.”
Alconis’ punishment is not as harsh as it could have been. In Japan, reckless driving can result in a death sentence of up to seven years in prison.
But the family hoped that there would be enough mitigating circumstances that the prison sentence could be waived.
Filled with regret, Alconis has apologised. He also followed Japanese custom by offering compensation to the families of the victims – $1.65 million. This is a huge amount for the family, and far beyond their means.
Brittany brings tears to her eyes when she reveals how generously friends and relatives have responded to the GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the family’s expenses.
“We don’t know millionaires,” he told Palmer. “It was many, many hardworking, ordinary people who gave what they could. It didn’t do what we hoped for, but honestly, I’ve never felt so loved.”
The family is now hoping for an 11th-hour political intervention to keep Alconis out of prison.
“President Biden just got a call; he could have called and said, ‘He’s coming home.’ The second would be for Ambassador Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan – he could request a clemency on his behalf.”
The US embassy has only said that it is looking into the matter.
At the moment, Alconis lives with Brittany and their three children in a comfortable home near the Yokosuka naval base. But the deadline for his departure is approaching with serious inevitability.
Brittany said she is expected to report to prison on July 25 at 1 p.m.
“So, I’m grateful. He’ll be home for my daughter’s birthday before I leave,” she said, crying in tears.
Family time has never felt so precious.