• Kyodo

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A 90-year-old former top bureaucrat was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for negligence over a car accident in Tokyo in 2019 in which a woman and her young daughter were killed.

The Tokyo District Court ruled that Kozo Iizuka — a former chief of the now-defunct Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry — was guilty of running a red light after mistaking the gas pedal for the brake, killing the mother and daughter and injuring nine others in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.

Presiding Judge Kenji Shimotsu said the defendant made a mistake in stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake. “If you accept the ruling, I want you to admit your mistake and responsibility and sincerely apologize to the bereaved family,” Shimotsu said.

Iizuka had pleaded not guilty during his trial, maintaining that a mechanical issue with the car caused it to run out of control. “I did not step on the gas, but the car accelerated,” Iizuka said in one of his trial hearings.

Prosecutors had sought a seven-year prison term for Iizuka, saying that no problems were found with the car in an inspection conducted after the incident and that there was no evidence of him applying the brakes when it occurred.

The court acknowledged the prosecutors’ argument and ruled that there were no problems with the car.

Kozo Iizuka enters the Tokyo District Court on Thursday to hear the ruling on his case over a traffic accident in which a mother and her young daughter were killed. | KYODO
Kozo Iizuka enters the Tokyo District Court on Thursday to hear the ruling on his case over a traffic accident in which a mother and her young daughter were killed. | KYODO

According to the indictment, Iizuka ran a red light after mistaking the gas pedal for the brake, hitting and killing bicycle-riding Mana Matsunaga, 31, and her 3-year-old daughter Riko when his vehicle entered a crosswalk in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro area on April 19, 2019.

He also injured nine others, including his wife who was a passenger in the car.

Before Thursday’s ruling, Takuya Matsunaga, the 35-year-old husband and father of the victims, said he will never get his wife and daughter back regardless of the ruling. “I don’t want this to end just as a court battle. I want to do my best for a future without traffic accidents.”

Matsunaga, who has attended all of Iizuka’s trial hearing sessions, has made speeches and attended events related to efforts to eradicate traffic accidents.

“If he faces up to the accident and talks about his mistakes, that may lead to stopping another accident like that from happening again,” Matsunaga said.

Iizuka, who was also injured in the accident and hospitalized, was indicted without arrest in February last year, triggering a public outcry and claims that he had been given preferential treatment due to his former government position.

The accident also stirred debate about the increasing number of older drivers on Japanese roads and the dangers they pose, and prompted many older people in the nation to give up driving.

According to police data a record 601,022 driver’s licenses were voluntarily surrendered in 2019, of which 350,428, or 58.3%, belonged to those age 75 or above — up 58,339 from the year before.

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