TOKYO — The U.S. military has banned its service members in Japan from drinking alcohol and has ordered those stationed on Okinawa to stay on base or in their homes after a fatal vehicular crash on Sunday involving a U.S. Marine.
A Japanese man was killed in the collision, and the blood alcohol level of the 21-year-old Marine in the other vehicle was reportedly three times the legal limit when driving. It is the latest such incident on an island where the American military presence was already controversial.
“It’s the same thing over and over again every time. I’m speechless,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who strongly opposes the expansion of U.S. bases in the southern island prefecture, told reporters.
The Marine, named in local reports as Nicholas James McLean, was driving a two-ton military truck when it collided with a mini-truck driven by Hidemasa Taira, 61.
A witness told police that the military truck ran a red light and hit the other driver's vehicle as it was making a right turn about 5:25 a.m., Kyodo News reported. Photos showed that the victim's mini-truck was severely damaged.
McLean suffered minor injuries and was questioned by police.
Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of U.S. Marine Forces Japan, conveyed his “deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident.”
U.S. Forces Japan has ordered all 25,000-odd U.S. service members on Okinawa to stay on their base or in their homes and has banned them from consuming alcohol.
Service members stationed in mainland Japan also have been prohibited from buying or consuming alcohol, on and off base.
Commanders across Japan will lead mandatory training on responsible alcohol use, risk management and acceptable behavior, U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement. All military members and U.S. government civilians in Japan are required to attend, it said.
Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, published a photo of a sign attached to Yuengling lager boxes inside a store at Yokosuka Naval Base declaring, "Alcohol purchase is suspended until further notice."
Last year, U.S. Forces Japan commanders imposed a similar alcohol ban in Okinawa after a 21-year-old service member crossed the centerline on a highway and crashed head-on into two cars shortly before midnight.
Although no one died in that crash, it came as service members were supposed to be on curfew, a restriction imposed after a former Marine and current military contractor was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing a local woman.
That man, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, pleaded guilty last week to raping the 20-year-old woman last year and then dumping her body but not guilty to intending to kill her.
The case fueled public anger about the U.S. bases in Okinawa and the crime and accidents that are associated with them.
Last month, a Marine CH-53E transport helicopter caught fire during a training flight in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island. It crashed just 300 yards from houses; no one was injured.
Onaga, the governor, has complained that Okinawa bears too much of the burden for Japan’s alliance with the United States. The island chain accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s landmass but houses 64 percent of the U.S. military bases in the country.
He has been campaigning against the relocation of the huge Marine air station at Futenma, in the middle of Okinawa’s main island, to a remote spot on reclaimed land farther north at Henoko, saying that the base should be moved off the island entirely. A majority of Okinawans, according to polls, agree with him.