• Kyodo

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The Chiba District Court sentenced a 53-year-old man to 15 years in prison Monday for killing five people while driving drunk.

It is the heaviest sentence that can be imposed for reckless driving resulting in death. The Justice Ministry said it is the first time the maximum penalty has been handed down since revisions to the Penal Code took effect in December 2001 to include crimes of this kind.

In June, the Osaka District Court sentenced a man to 13 years in prison for causing a traffic accident that killed four and injured one.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum 15 years in that case.

According to the court in Monday’s ruling, Yutaka Wajima was drinking at yearend parties on the night of Dec. 8, 2002. Although he knew he was too drunk to drive safely, he tried to drive home.

At around 1 a.m. the following day, he fell asleep at the wheel and mowed down five pedestrians along a municipal road in the city of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture.

Prosecutors maintained during the trial that driving while intoxicated turned the perpetrator into a lethal weapon capable of indiscriminate murder.

Wajima’s lawyer meanwhile asked the court to take due account of the fact that the defendant had confessed and regretted his actions.

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