All U.S. service members in Okinawa have been restricted to their bases and residences and banned from drinking alcohol in response to a fatal traffic accident in the prefectural capital over the weekend, U.S. Forces in Japan announced Monday.
“The new restrictions follow an accident Sunday morning in Naha. . . . Alcohol may have been a factor,” USFJ said.
The announcement follows the arrest of a marine who was reportedly involved in an accident that resulted in the death of a Japanese man in Naha.
In addition, U.S. service members elsewhere in Japan are prohibited from purchasing or consuming alcohol on or off base until further notice, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The travel and drinking bans are the latest imposed by the U.S. in reaction to offenses committed by its personnel on the island prefecture. In May last year, U.S. officials in Okinawa banned off-base drinking after a civilian employee was arrested for allegedly murdering a Japanese woman in Uruma.
On Sunday, Pfc. Nicholas James-McLean, 21, was reportedly found with a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal limit after his 2-ton military truck collided with a minitruck at an intersection in Naha at around 5:25 a.m.
The driver of the minitruck, identified as 61-year-old Hidemasa Taira, was confirmed dead at a hospital. The marine was arrested on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death.
A witness reportedly told the police that the military truck ran a red light and hit the minitruck as it was attempting to make a right turn.
“The vast majority of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and civilians in Japan serve honorably and make great contributions to the defense of Japan. When our service members fail to live up to the high standards we set for them, it damages the bonds between bases and local communities and makes it harder for us to accomplish our mission,” the USFJ said.
On Sunday, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of U.S. Marine Forces Japan, said in a separate statement: “I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident.”
However, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga appeared unhappy Monday despite the U.S. apology and restrictions.
Later on Monday, Onaga met with Nicholson and U.S. Consul General Joel Ehrendreich and handed them a letter of protest.
“Every time such an accident takes place . . . the Okinawa Prefectural Government has urged the U.S. Forces to make sure to implement preventive measures, enforce stricter discipline and conduct thorough education programs. Despite our repeated requests, however, the accident took place, taking a precious human life,” Onaga said in the letter.
“We cannot contain our indignation,” it said.
In Okinawa, the site of fierce ground battles in the closing days of World War II, anti-military sentiment has remained strong among residents.
Crimes and accidents committed by U.S. military members stationed there continue to fuel that sentiment.