YOKOHAMA – A court on Friday sentenced a 26-year-old man to 18 years in prison for a highway road rage incident last year in which a couple died and their two teenage daughters were injured.
Kazuho Ishibashi was convicted of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury after he overtook the family’s vehicle on the Tomei Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture on June 5, 2017, and forced it to stop in the passing lane where they were hit from behind by a truck.
Prosecutors had demanded a 23-year prison term while the defendant had pleaded not guilty in the trial at the Yokohama District Court.
Presiding Judge Shigeyuki Fukasawa recognized a causal link between the defendant’s road rage and the fatal accident, saying, “Making (the deceased couple’s) car stop after blocking its way four times was an act inseparable (from the accident). The death and injury were the consequences of his driving.”
According to the ruling, Ishibashi became enraged after being warned by Yoshihisa Hagiyama, 45, about the way he parked his car at an expressway parking area just before the incident. Ishibashi chased Hagiyama, who was traveling with his wife, Yuka, 39, and their two daughters.
“The defendant’s persistent actions were based on a strong intent, and the consequence was serious. The sorrow of the people who were suddenly deprived of their lives is beyond all imagination,” said Fukasawa, adding that the court concluded the defendant is not sincerely reflecting on his actions.
The focal point of the trial was whether the charge of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury, normally applied to actions taken while behind the wheel, could be brought against Ishibashi who was no longer driving when the couple died.
Ishibashi was threatening to drag Hagiyama out of the vehicle when it was rammed by the truck.
The court noted, however, that the case did not meet all criteria for dangerous driving because the incident occurred when the defendant’s vehicle was not in motion.
The high-profile case raised public concern about dangerous driving in Japan, leading to stricter police crackdowns and calls for further revisions to traffic laws.
More than 680 people lined up early in the morning for 41 seats offered to the public to hear the ruling. Ishibashi, clad in a black jersey, was expressionless, directly looking at the judge when the ruling was handed down.
The prosecutors also charged Ishibashi with confinement resulting in death or injury in case he was not convicted for dangerous driving, arguing that he forced the family to stay in their vehicle on the highway, an act also responsible for causing the fatal crash. As the court found that his act constituted dangerous driving, it did not make a judgement on the confinement charge.
Ishibashi’s defense team said the defendant cannot be convicted for the crime because there is no legal stipulation on accidents involving vehicles that are no longer moving.
His lawyers also contested the additional charge of confinement resulting in death and injury, claiming that the defendant made the couple’s vehicle stay at the site for only a short period of time and he did not intend to confine them.