Sailor driving Humvee accused of hit and run on Okinawa

by David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida

Stars & Stripes, Occupation Propaganda Sheet

NAGO, Okinawa — A Navy Humvee crashed into the back of a Japanese family’s car and left the scene Tuesday night, slightly injuring two children, according to Okinawa police. The sailor was later arrested by military police.

The incident received broad coverage in local media Wednesday, coming at a time when the U.S. military and Japan have locked horns on basing issues on Okinawa.

The crash occurred at about 10:55 p.m. on Route 329 in the village of Henoko, near Camp Schwab, a police spokesman said Wednesday. According to the police report, the car’s driver, a 45-year-old Henoko man, had just pulled out from a local laundromat and was driving southbound when the Navy vehicle struck it and then sped away.

The man was not injured, but his 2-year-old son was treated for cuts to his forehead at a nearby hospital. His 10-year-old son had a bruised nose, according to the police report.

Police said the compact car sustained major damage, including a crushed rear end.

A woman who was driving in the northbound lane reported the accident to police. She told them the Humvee continued heading south after the incident. About seven miles down the road, an abandoned Navy Humvee with a damaged front bumper and headlight was found parked with its engine still running, the police spokesman said.

According to a Navy news release, the driver of the Humvee was found nearby and arrested by military police.

“The service member is alleged to have been driving a High Mobility Military Vehicle (HMMV) when she hit a car driven by a Japanese national,” the Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa release stated. “She was apprehended by U.S. military forces a few kilometers from the accident and arrested and taken into custody.”

The sailor was not named and no other details were available concerning possible charges. The release stated she is assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion One, Gulfport, Miss., which is temporarily deployed to Camp Shields.

Cmdr. Stanley Wiles, the unit’s commanding officer, said in the release that the Navy is “fully cooperating” with the local investigators.

The crash occurred in the area where a controversial air facility to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is planned. The national government is reviewing the 2006 agreement to move the Marines and the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and municipal governments have come out against any relocation within Okinawa.

Crimes involving U.S. servicemembers frequently receive intense media coverage and are often cited by base opponents as reasons for opposing any new base construction and reducing the U.S. troop strength on the island.

The most recent accident to incite protest demonstrations involved the death of a 66-year-old Yomitan man who was struck in November by a car allegedly driven by a soldier based at Torii Station. Army Staff Sgt. Clyde Gunn, 27, is being tried in a Japanese court on charges of involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.

That incident drew fire from Okinawans because Gunn refused to be questioned by Japanese police and prosecutors and, under the terms of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, he was not handed over to Japanese authorities until he was indicted.

On Wednesday, an organizer for base opponents who have staged a sit-in at the Henoko fishing port for the past six years, said Tuesday’s incident showed a need for changing the SOFA.

“It seems every time an accident happens, servicemembers think as long as they can get back to a base they think they are safe,” said Hiroshi Ashitomi. “And if this occurred during the driver’s duty hours, then, under the SOFA, the Japanese government has no jurisdiction. This is why we need the SOFA changed.”

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