U.S. military personnel in Okinawa have been restricted to base and banned from drinking alcohol after a Marine was arrested over a crash that killed a Japanese man in a case that was likely to stoke resentment over the U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa.
Police on the southern Japanese island arrested 21-year-old Nicholas James-McLean late Sunday on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in injury or death and driving under the influence of alcohol, said Kazuhiko Miyagi of the Okinawa police.
He confirmed that a breath test indicated James-McLean had an alcohol level that was three times the legal limit. The Marine was slightly injured, Miyagi said.
Hidemasa Taira, 61, who was driving a small truck, died in the Sunday morning crash in Naha, the main city in Okinawa.
He was making a turn when his vehicle was hit by James-McLean's truck, which was coming from the opposite direction, according to Japanese media. The reports cited witnesses as saying the Japanese driver had the right of way when the crash occurred and the Marine may have driven through a red light.
The incident could fuel opposition to the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, where about 25,000 of the total 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed and where local residents have expressed concerns in the past about military crime and crowding on the island.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga on Monday criticized the U.S. military stationed on the small southern Japanese island, located some 1,600 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.
"As the same thing repeats, I'm lost for words," Onaga said according to an Okinawa Times report.
The Japanese government expressed "extreme regret" over the incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
"The Defence and Foreign Ministries have lodged a stern representation to the U.S. forces in Japan and the U.S. embassy in Japan, asking for the enforcement of discipline, prevention of recurrence and sincere response to the bereaved," Suga said.
Suga said U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty expressed his condolences and offered an apology and that he also promised to cooperate with investigation and do all it can to prevent a recurrence.
The U.S. military said "alcohol may have been a factor" in the crash.
Buying and drinking alcohol was banned for U.S. military personnel all over Japan. As well, those on Okinawa were restricted to base and their residences, until further notice.
The military said commanders across Japan will immediately lead mandatory training on responsible alcohol use and acceptable behavior.
"When our service members fail to live up to the high standards we set for them, it damages the bonds between bases and local communities and makes it harder for us to accomplish our mission," U.S. Forces, Japan, said in a statement posted on its website.
Just last month, a U.S. military helicopter crashed near residential areas in northern Okinawa. None of its crew members and no resident was hurt, but the military resumed flights for the same type of helicopters a week later despite the Japanese government's demand the U.S. military suspend its flight operations for an "indefinite period."
In April 2016, a former U.S. marine was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing a 20-year-old Okinawan woman.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protested to then-U.S. President Barack Obama about the killing of a young woman in Okinawa, for which a U.S. base worker had been charged.
Obama, who was visiting Japan for a Group of Seven summit, expressed "deepest regrets."
The case is under trial.
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