FOLLOW-UP:Three U.S. teens cleared in Japan case(12-27-09)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Japanese police on Saturday arrested four American teenagers suspected of stringing a rope across a street near the base in August and causing a Japanese motorcyclist to crash, seriously injuring her.

The teens, whose parents are servicemembers stationed at Yokota, were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder but have not been charged, authorities said.

Japanese police can question adult suspects for 48 hours and hold them an additional 21 days while prosecutors determine whether to file charges. Though the young Americans are considered juveniles under Japanese law, they could be charged as adults. It was unclear Saturday how long they could be held in custody.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police executed the arrest warrant after more than a week of discussions between U.S. and Japanese officials over whether the teens should be exempt from arrest until formally charged — as is the case with U.S. troops and most civilian employees under the status of forces agreement.

Before Saturday, the U.S. had maintained that dependent family members qualify for the same protections as military personnel and that the teens — who surrendered their passports to base officials late last month — should not be taken into custody.

It was unclear Saturday whether the reversal of that position would set a precedent for dependents caught up in the Japanese legal system.

A U.S. military law enforcement officer delivered the teens to an undisclosed Japanese police station Saturday morning, Yokota spokesman Maj. Christopher Watt said.

The teens had not acquired legal representation as of Saturday afternoon, Watt said. Dependents and civilians cannot be represented by military attorneys.

Japanese police did not identify the suspects by name but described them as an 18-year-old unemployed male and a 15-year-old high school boy, both living on Yokota, and a 17-year-old female and 15-year-old male, both high school students who live off-base in Musashimurayama, a city near the base where the late-night Aug. 13 incident occurred.

After the 23-year-old motorcyclist crashed about 11:30 p.m., the teens stopped an oncoming car and the driver called police, a Japanese police spokesman said Saturday.

The teens provided false names and fled the scene once officers arrived, he said.

The woman suffered serious head injuries and had fallen into a coma at one point but has since been released from the hospital, Watt told Stars and Stripes late last month.

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