The wife of a naval lieutenant imprisoned in Japan reveals the reaction of a young child

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The wife of a US Navy lieutenant, who was sentenced to three years in a Japanese prison after being involved in a traffic accident that killed two people, said she is doing everything she can to reunite her children with their father.

“This is really about my kids, so while it’s hard for us, the ones who really pay the price for this and the Alliance and the politics are my kids,” Brittany Alconis, wife of Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alconis, told Fox News Digital. “They are young and in their formative years. They need a father.”

The family’s ordeal began after the rise of Japan’s Mount Fuji, shortly before Lieutenant Alkonis was appointed. The family had been in Japan for about a year and nine months before making the trip as part of a three-year tour of the country, hoping to make some memories for themselves and their children before he was gone for most of next year.

But the memory turned to tragedy when Lieutenant Alkonis had a seizure while driving on the family’s return trip, colliding with two vehicles causing two pedestrians to die of their injuries.

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Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis and a member of his family.
(“Fox News @ Night” screenshot)

“On that day we set off from sea level and by the end of the trip we were over 8000 feet,” Brittany Alconis recalls. “We walked until we thought it was becoming too dangerous for the kids and decided to head back. We were only 5 minutes from our destination, and Ridge was in the middle of our conversation with our oldest daughter when he lost consciousness. We were only going about 25 mph, but he never regained consciousness” .

Alkonis said she was also feeling nauseous from the changes in height, which prompted her to lean back in her seat and take a dose shortly before the accident. She did not open her eyes again to the effect, while her daughter unsuccessfully tried to wake her father.

“It all happened very quickly,” Alconis recalls.

Lieutenant Alkonis was arrested at the scene, something his wife believes is routine while authorities investigate the incident. But her husband was soon subjected to interrogation and solitary confinement and was never released.

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“This was not a drunk driver, he didn’t sleep, but he went down the hill from there,” Alconis said.

Lieutenant Alkonis was later diagnosed with acute mountain sickness, which results from ascending high altitudes too quickly and can cause sudden fainting for up to 24 hours, but the diagnosis was of little use in Japan’s unique judicial system.

The family’s lawyer explained that it is Japanese custom to show remorse in court rather than try to defend your innocence, which prompted the family to issue an official apology for the incident and pay a $1.65 million settlement. They were told that more than 95% of people following a similar path had suspended sentences, but that Lieutenant Alkonis was given a full three-year prison sentence. The appeal in which Lieutenant Alkonis provided his medical diagnosis was also dismissed, leaving the family with few options for justice.

Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A.

Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A.
(US Air Force photo taken by Technical Sergeant Louis Vega Jr.)

“If we had known he was going to jail anyway, we would have told them no,” Alconis said. “The result in both trials was above what anyone could expect.”

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To make matters worse, Alconis believes that part of the reason her husband did not receive fair treatment is that an influential member of the court is a family member of one of those killed in the accident.

“One of the deceased was a family member of a prosecutor in the Tokyo High Court and had a great influence,” Alkonis said. “I think that has something to do with his sentencing.”

Her husband’s case received rare bipartisan attention on Capitol Hill, with Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, and Representative Mike Levine, a Democrat from California, calling for Japan to call for the release of Lieutenant Alconis.

“I do not find it inexcusable that an American who has experienced a medical emergency should be treated so poorly by an allied nation that he is protecting it,” Lee said during remarks in the Senate last week.

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“It is clear that the Japanese judicial system is trying to be an example of Lieutenant Alkonis – perhaps stemming from a history of SOFA disputes,” Lee added. “He’s targeted because he’s an American – and because he was in the unfortunate situation of suffering from a medical emergency that led to a tragedy.”

The Status of Forces Agreement, a treaty governing issues between the U.S. military and the governments of host countries, between the United States and Japan has long been controversial among the Japanese. While Japanese courts retain jurisdiction over crimes committed by US forces in the country, exceptions to the rules have sometimes caused negative feelings among Japanese authorities who believe that US forces have additional privileges.

Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Cole, Inc.)

Levin made it clear that the Pentagon should do more on the issue, and pledged that it would continue to work to secure the release of Lieutenant Alconis.

“I’m not going to give up on Lieutenant Kunis and neither should the Department of Defense,” he said.

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The issue also has ramifications for an alliance that has been stable for decades, something Lee acknowledged while President Biden called for the issue to be made a priority.

“We’ve been allies for a long time,” he told me.

Ms. Alkonis also hopes to engage the White House, noting that support from lawmakers makes her “hopeful that momentum is starting to move in our direction.”

“I constantly do things to get him out of prison,” Alconis said. “I’m going to Washington, D.C., in two weeks, with the goal of speaking to the National Security Adviser or President Biden, and I’ll stay there for as long as it takes.”

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Meanwhile, Alkonis said the ordeal has taken a toll on her family. Unlike postings, where she can explain to her children that their dad is doing something meaningful and important, being in prison is something her young child “doesn’t understand.”

Communication is also difficult, limited to postal mail and two short 20-minute visits per month. The shocking truth has prompted Alkonis to focus her attention on securing her husband’s release.

“Hopefully something will come of the DC trip,” Alconis said. “It’s important for children to see that we fight for justice. We don’t ask for special treatment, we just want to be treated like any Japanese citizen.”

Ashley Papa of Fox News contributed to this report.

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