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Family of US Naval Officer Jailed in Japan Pleads With Biden to Intervene: 'Step In and Bring Him Home'

·4-min read
Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Dana Point, Calif. Their son, a U.S. Navy lieutenant in Japan, faces a potential three-year prison sentence for a car crash that killed two people last year. The family of Alkonis says he suffered from acute mountain-sickness and passed out unconscious behind the wheel. Japanese prosecutors and a judge say he was feeling drowsy and should have pulled over.
Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Dana Point, Calif. Their son, a U.S. Navy lieutenant in Japan, faces a potential three-year prison sentence for a car crash that killed two people last year. The family of Alkonis says he suffered from acute mountain-sickness and passed out unconscious behind the wheel. Japanese prosecutors and a judge say he was feeling drowsy and should have pulled over.

Denis Poroy/AP Photo Derek and Suzi Alkonis pose with a photo of their son Lt. Ridge Alkonis

The family of a U.S. Naval officer jailed in Japan after his involvement in a fatal car accident demonstrated outside the White House this week in an effort to draw the Biden administration's attention to the case.

CNN reports that Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis is serving three years in a Japanese prison after courts there found him responsible for the negligent driving deaths of two Japanese citizens in May 2021.

Alkonis argued that he suffered a medical episode — later diagnosed as acute mountain sickness —as he was driving with his family in Japan, causing him to fall unconscious behind the wheel and leading to a crash in which an 85-year-old woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law died. The Japanese government argues Alkonis simply fell asleep while driving, which caused the crash.

Alkonis' sentence was upheld after an appeal last month and on Wednesday, his family and friends marched in front of the White House, urging the administration to do more.

Speaking to Fox News during the demonstration, his wife Brittany Alkonis said: "The DOD has abandoned my husband, but as an officer, my husband serves at the pleasure of the president, and so I think it is appropriate for him to step in and bring him home."

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Brittany also spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday, saying that she and Ridge's family have offered the family of the victims a settlement of $1 million, as is customary, but the offer was turned down.

"The reason we think it's unfair is because his Japanese attorney said that people that have been in situations like his that have made a complete settlement—0% of them have gone to prison," Brittany Alkonis said on CNN.

She continued: "Our settlement, well, settlements in general, are very important. They're a very important part of the Japanese judicial system. The one we made was incredibly large."

Elsewhere in her interview with Tapper, Brittany said her husband has been offered "no phone privileges," and that she has only been given one 20-minute meeting with Ridge since his imprisonment.

Brittany has also told outlets she is worried about Ridge's pay and benefits running out during his prison sentence, which will leave she and their three young children with nothing.

"Once Ridge's leave runs out, we are left without pay, without benefits," she told Fox. "My kids have no idea where they'll be going to school, where they'll be receiving medical care, and whether or not they'll be able to see him during the next three years."

His family argues Ridge was improperly detained and not given a proper medical evaluation, with his mother, Suzi, telling Axios he was put in solitary confinement for 26 days ahead of his sentencing.

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Even still, Suzi and his other family members assumed he would receive a suspended sentence, due to the eventual medical diagnosis of acute mountain sickness.

Instead, he got three years.

"I was there the night that they pronounced the three-year sentence. It was a shock to virtually everybody. We had his bags packed, the kids bags were packed, he was coming home. We knew it. Then we got the phone call that he wasn't," Suzi told Axios.

As his family highlights the case, CNN reports that lawmakers are trying to make inroads as well, with 20 Republican senators writing to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida this month, urging the Japanese government to expel the Naval officer from the country.

"We are extremely troubled by the three-year prison sentence Lieutenant Alkonis received on October 18, 2021," the letter reads, per CNN. "Japanese nationals convicted of the same crime are routinely granted leniency. In fact, 95% of similarly charged defendants get a suspended sentence, meaning they do not serve prison time."

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Axios notes that the Alkonis family is represented by the same spokesman who represented Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who was detained in Russia in 2019 and released in a prisoner swap in April.