US Navy officer Ridge Alkonis faces 3 years in Japanese prison.
Brittany Alkonis, her three young children and two of their grandparents did the unimaginable on Thursday, leaving Japan without their husband, father and son, Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, after starting what they believe to be a unjustifiable sentence of three years in a foreign prison. .
His parents and wife will soon fly to Washington, D.C., to continue asking President Joe Biden and Congress to help secure his release, but leaving their son imprisoned has been devastating, Derek and Suzi Alkonis told the Desert News.
“It’s heartbreaking,” her mother said.
Derek Alkonis carried his son’s bag for him as he reported to prison.
“Worst day of my life,” said Derek Alkonis, who used the excruciating term to describe the family’s last bedtime together, last breakfast together, last family prayer together.
Ridge Alkonis took a Bible and a Book of Mormon with him when he reported to jail on Monday, convicted of negligent driving in the deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law on May 29 . , 2021, as the family descended Mount Fuji after a day trip.
A Japanese judge has determined that Alkonis fell asleep at the wheel and lost control of his vehicle, which rammed pedestrians and parked cars in a restaurant parking lot two hours from Yokosuka Naval Base, where he was serving as an anti-submarine warfare officer.
But US Navy investigators determined that Alkonis suffered from acute mountain sickness and had lost consciousness. His wife and children said he was not sleepy and seemed to pass out. They said that once he passed out, he no longer responded to their screams and a girl’s kicks. He remained unconscious even during the accident itself.
After briefly hunkering down at their home in Dana Point, Calif., Derek and Suzi Alkonis say they will travel to Washington with Brittany to ask Biden to intervene. They said US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel was working to help secure their son’s release, and they are “hugely encouraged” that Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee and their member of the Democratic Congress, Representative Mike Levin, spoke on the floors. of the United States Senate and House on his behalf.
Lee called the incident the result of an unforeseeable medical emergency.
Derek Alkonis said it was hard to leave Brittany and their three young grandchildren, ages 8, 7 and 4, who are now visiting Brittany’s family.
“The last thing we heard was Ridge Jr. screaming for his dad,” Derek Alkonis said. in a tweet. “‘Where is he? Why can’t we see him?
Suzi Alkonis said her son told them he was sure he could serve his sentence.
“He knows he’s a grown man with the stamina and courage to pull through,” she told the Deseret News. “And his wife is a rock. So the people who are going to bear the brunt of it are these three children. … Now our job is to shower them with love and protect them as much as possible, so that they can pass through without too many scars.
His parents said the faith of the family’s Latter-day Saints was instrumental for each of them through the ordeal.
Family and friends say Ridge Alkonis is a good officer, a remarkably kind man and a loving young father who interrupted his studies at the US Naval Academy, where he was a left-handed pitcher on the baseball team, to serve a two-year religious mission in Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The last place he should be is in a cell, and especially when it’s for something so out of his control,” his mother said. “We don’t put people in jail for heart attacks. We don’t put people in jail for strokes, but he has this medical emergency and that’s where he is now.
Ridge Alkonis testified last August that he lost consciousness due to acute mountain sickness, running at high altitudes.
“I’m so sorry for all the pain and suffering I’ve caused because of this accident,” he said in court.
He paid a record $1.65 million in restitution to the Japanese family. Part of the money came from insurance. More than half a million came from family members and friends, some of whom dipped into retirement funds or mortgaged their homes to help out. These excuses, or gomenasai, are customary in Japan and regularly lead to suspended sentences.
“This money is intended to ease the pain of this family who lost family members,” said Suzi Alkonis. “Ridge was adamant about taking care of the family. It was a minimum duty and he and we were happy to do it. But everyone we spoke to who was familiar with how the legal system works in Japan said, “That’s more than enough. That’s how they do it. They’re not interested in putting you in jail if you’ve paid your settlement, and that should guarantee a suspended sentence. And when that didn’t happen, everyone was shocked.
Brittany Alkonis does not speak Japanese like her husband. She told CBS News that when she saw Ridge’s face as the appeals court announced its decision, she knew it was wrong. Alkonis was ordered to serve his full sentence.
“When you experience a tragedy like this, there are a lot of people who suffer,” said Derek Alkonis. “There is the Japanese family that suffers from the loss of family members. We feel for them.
Suzi Alkonis said the family now has first-hand experience of the idea that courts, whether American or Japanese, are not designed to help with healing.
Instead, they relied on family, friends, and faith.
Many people made them aware that they were praying for Ridge, Brittany and their children.
“We know a lot of people are praying and fasting and putting our name on temple prayer rolls,” Derek Alkonis said. “Members of our ward, past and present, are watching us. They care deeply about not only our spiritual well-being, but also our behavioral health. The ministry that our faith promotes is so needed in these cases.
Latter-day Saints in their military congregation in Japan brought food and performed other services.
“I don’t even know how people can survive without being affiliated with a faith-based organization that truly understands service and without depending on our Savior to save us from our feelings and our sadness,” Derek Alkonis said.
“We use the word support a lot in the church,” Suzi Alkonis said. “I just wrote to a friend who said she was praying for us that I don’t think I could get up in the morning and put my clothes on and face my day without those prayers. It is very, very real the amount of supportive energy we receive from these prayers. And Ridge felt it. Brittany feels it. This family feels it. We couldn’t face a day without her.
Ridge Alkonis supporters are frustrated with the way the case has been handled and say he is caught up in larger forces. Some have alleged that a family member of the victims employed by a prosecutor may have exercised undue influence. Others say there are tensions in Japan over the tens of thousands of US service members stationed there and a perception that some do not face consequences when they commit crimes.
Alkonis did not commit a crime, they claim, and did not enjoy basic rights like due process, they say.
After the accident, Japanese authorities arrested Alkonis before Navy officials arrived. They did not provide medical treatment or a medical examination, the family said.
Suzi Alkonis said the next 26 days were scary as the family worried about what was wrong.
“Drowsy people don’t sleep during an accident,” she said. “We knew he hadn’t dozed off, but we didn’t know what had happened and we feared for his health, for his life.”
After Ridge Alkonis was released on bail, Navy neurologists examined him to determine if he was fit to return to duty. The investigation revealed that Alkonis had suffered from acute mountain sickness and was fit for duty, but he was not allowed to return to the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, while his case was before the courts. courts.
Lee, the senator from Utah, said Biden needed to send a signal to Japan that as an ally he needed to treat the military protecting him better. He said members of the Navy also need to see their president standing up for them.
“I find it simply inexcusable that an American who has experienced a medical emergency should be treated so badly by an allied nation he is protecting,” he said.
“It’s clear that the Japanese justice system is trying to hold Lt. Alkonis up as an example – perhaps because of a history of disputes over our status-of-forces agreement,” he said. “He is being targeted because he is American – and because he was in the unfortunate position of having suffered a medical emergency that resulted in tragedy.”
Levin, the California congressman, expressed “deep concern over the Japanese government’s treatment of Lt. Ridge Alkonis.”
He said the US Navy also opposes the sentencing.
“I won’t give up on Lt. Alkonis and neither should the Department of Defense,” Levin said.
I am deeply concerned about the Japanese government’s handling of the case of Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, a @USNavy officer who was not treated fairly by the Japanese courts. I work closely with the Navy and @DeptofDefense to support Lieutenant Alkonis and I will not abandon him. pic.twitter.com/kbNwKf619h
— Rep. Mike Levin (@RepMikeLevin) July 21, 2022