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U.S. military imposes alcohol ban across Japan after fatal Okinawa crash

The United States military has banned all service members in Japan from drinking alcohol and has ordered those stationed on Okinawa to stay on base or in their homes following a fatal car crash Sunday.

A Japanese driver was killed in a collision with a 21-year-old Marine whose blood-alcohol level was reportedly three times the legal limit — the latest incident on an island where the American military presence was already controversial.

“It’s the same thing over and over again every time. I’m speechless,” Takeshi Onaga, Okinawa’s governor, who strongly opposes the expansion of U.S. bases in the southern island prefecture, told reporters after the latest incident.

The Marine, named in local reports as Nicholas James McLean, was driving a two-ton military truck when it collided with a mini-truck driven by Hidemasa Taira, 61.

A witness told police that the military truck ran a red light and hit the Japanese man’s vehicle as it was making a right turn about 5:25 a.m., Kyodo News reported. Photos showed the victim’s mini-truck severely damaged.

McLean sustained minor injuries and was questioned by police.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of U.S. Marine Forces Japan, conveyed his “deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident.”

As a result of the crash, U.S. Forces Japan has restricted all 25,000-odd U.S. service members on Okinawa to stay on their base or in their homes and has banned them from consuming alcohol.

Service members stationed in mainland Japan also have been prohibited from buying or consuming alcohol, either on or off base.

Commanders across Japan will immediately lead mandatory training to address responsible alcohol use, risk management and acceptable behavior, U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement. All military members and U.S. government civilians in Japan are required to attend, it said.

Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, published a photo of a sign attached to Yuengling Lager boxes inside a store at Yokosuka Naval Base declaring: “Alcohol purchase is suspended until further notice.”

Last year, U.S. Forces Japan commanders imposed a similar alcohol ban in Okinawa after a 21-year-old service member crossed the center line on a highway and crashed head-on into two cars shortly before midnight.

Although no one died in that crash, it came as service members were supposed to be on curfew, a restriction imposed after a former Marine and current military contractor was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing a local woman.

That man, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, pleaded guilty last week to raping the 20-year-old woman last year and then dumping her body, but not guilty to intending to kill her.

The case fueled public anger over the U.S. bases in Okinawa and the crime and accidents that are associated with them.

Last month, a Marine CH-53E transport helicopter caught fire during a training flight in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island. It crashed just 300 yards from houses, but no one was injured.

Onaga, the governor, has complained that Okinawa bears too much of the burden for Japan’s alliance with the United States. The island chain accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s landmass but houses 74 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan.

He has been campaigning against the relocation of the huge Marine air station at Futenma, in the middle of Okinawa’s main island, to a remote spot on reclaimed land farther north at Henoko, saying that the base should be moved off the island entirely. A majority of Okinawans, according to polls, agree the base should be moved out the prefecture.

Source: Washington Post

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