YOKOHAMA – A 26-year-old man pleaded not guilty Monday at the Yokohama District Court to a charge of dangerous driving in connection with an alleged road-rage incident near Tokyo last year in which a couple died and their two young daughters were injured.
Kazuho Ishibashi was initially arrested on charges including negligence resulting in death or injury, but prosecutors later applied the stricter charge of dangerous driving resulting in death or injury over the incident, which occurred on the Tomei Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture in June last year.
The tougher charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
According to the indictment, Yoshihisa Hagiyama, 45, had argued with Ishibashi over the way he had parked his car at an expressway parking area just before the incident. Ishibashi, enraged, then chased Hagiyama, who was driving with his wife, Yuka, 39, and their two daughters, for more than a kilometer before overtaking their vehicle and forcing it to stop in the passing lane.
Ishibashi was attempting to drag Hagiyama from the stopped vehicle when it was hit from behind by a truck.
Ishibashi’s defense team argued that while he had engaged in harassing behavior while driving, he was no longer behind the wheel when the collision occurred meaning there was no causal link between his actions and the couple’s death.
Prosecutors, however, said Ishibashi had “a consistent intention to make a complaint to the couple and the stopping of the vehicle and the harassing behavior are considered as a set of actions that can be linked to their deaths.”
The defense team also contested an additional charge concerning confinement resulting in death and injury, arguing it is doubtful the defendant intended to confine the family.
Prosecutors argued that the charge applied because Ishibashi had forced the Hagiyamas’ vehicle to stop in the busy passing lane of the highway when it was hit by the truck.
The case is unique in that it is rare for the charge of dangerous driving resulting in death or injury to be brought against someone who was not behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
The ruling is expected to be handed down on Dec. 14 following closing arguments next Monday.
Ishibashi has been separately indicted for two reckless driving cases in which he tried to force drivers out of their cars in Yamaguchi Prefecture. He was also indicted in Yamaguchi for damaging another vehicle by kicking it.