National / Crime & Legal

23 years sought for man accused of causing road-rage accident that left couple dead and their children hurt

Kyodo

Prosecutors sought a 23-year prison term for a 26-year-old man on Monday over an alleged road-rage incident near Tokyo last year that left a couple dead and their children injured.

Kazuho Ishibashi’s action was “persistent and malicious,” the prosecutors said at the Yokohama District Court, while family members of the victims — Yoshihisa Hagiyama, 45, and his wife Yuka, 39 — also called for a strict penalty.

Ishibashi was initially arrested on charges including negligence resulting in death and injury, but the prosecutors applied a stricter charge of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury over the incident on the Tomei Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture on June 5, 2017. Ishibashi has pleaded not guilty.

According to the indictment, Ishibashi was enraged after Hagiyama criticized him for the way he parked his car at an expressway parking area, and chased Hagiyama — who was driving with his wife and their two daughters — for about 1.4 kilometers before overtaking their vehicle and forcing it to stop in the central overtaking lane.

Ishibashi was trying to drag Hagiyama out of his vehicle when it was hit from behind by a truck, killing the couple and injuring their daughters, it said.

“My parents were instantly killed … I want the court to impose a strict penalty on him,” the 17-year-old daughter of Hagiyama said in a statement read out by a prosecutor during Monday’s session.

“I cannot allow the defendant to walk outside while I am alive,” said Hagiyama’s 78-year-old mother Fumiko.

The case has attracted national attention and has led to police more actively enforcing a law that allows them to pre-emptively suspend the licenses of drivers linked to, suspected of or convicted of committing one of a wide range of offenses that could be assessed as associated with dangerous driving.

Police will utilize not just traffic laws but also other laws to clamp down on dangerous driving.

A total of 330 people lined up for the 49 available seats in the courtroom.

The focus of the trial is on whether the court will apply the charge of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury to an accident that occurred after the vehicle involved had already come to a halt.

The defense counsel has argued that the charge is not applicable to Ishibashi as he was not behind the wheel when the accident occurred, and thus there is no causal link between his actions and the couple’s death.

It also questioned whether the defendant intended to confine the family, and contested an additional charge of confinement resulting in death and injury.

The prosecutors said the accident occurred as a result of a combination of Ishibashi’s rage and dangerous driving.

They also said there is a causal link between the defendant’s driving and the accident as he used excessive speed to catch and force Hagiyama’s vehicle to a stop, a condition for applying the charge, and that Ishibashi increased the risk of a rear-end collision when he assaulted the driver.

The ruling is scheduled to be handed down Friday.

Separately, Ishibashi has been indicted for two reckless driving cases in which he tried to force drivers out of their cars in Yamaguchi Prefecture. He was also indicted for damaging another vehicle in Yamaguchi by kicking it.