American on Okinawa gets 18 months in prison for vehicular manslaughter
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 22, 2012
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An Okinawa court on Wednesday sentenced an Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee to 18 months in prison for vehicular manslaughter, just months after the U.S. and Japan revised treaty guidelines to allow the foreign prosecution.
Rufus J. Ramsey III, 24, pleaded guilty in January to losing control of his vehicle and veering into ongoing traffic on a local highway last year, killing a 19-year-old Japanese driver.
“The defendant, who had only six months of driving experience at the time of the accident, was driving inattentively and neglecting his basic duty as a driver when he lost control of his vehicle and collided with an oncoming car,” said Chief Judge Hideyuki Suzuki, head of the three-judge panel that handed down Ramsey’s punishment. “The negligence is too grave to suspend the sentence.”
Ramsey let out a sigh when the sentence was read. His attorney, Kotaro Ito, said they will appeal the decision.
The sentence is a stark contrast to the U.S. military decision last year to punish Ramsey by revoking his foreign driving privileges for five years, a move that outraged Okinawans and triggered protests claiming that U.S. civilians who commit serious offenses were skirting punishment. After months of public outcry, the United States and Japan agreed in November to allow Japanese prosecutors to press charges against U.S. civilians who cause deadly incidents even if they are on duty at the time.
Suzuki said that the panel of judges gave consideration to Ramsey’s young age and the fact that the military had revoked his driving privileges but found that confinement was required as punishment.
“Instead of lamenting your own misfortune, I want you to offer your heartfelt condolences to the victim and his family and pray for them,” the judge said.
The family of 19-year-old Koki Yogi felt that the 18-month sentence was too lenient, their attorney, Toshio Ikemiyagi, said following the hearing.
But Ikemiyagi praised the case and the changes to the U.S.-Japan treaty guidelines as important first steps toward getting more justice for Okinawans who are the victims of such crimes.