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SEOUL — An attorney for an 8th Army soldier convicted in a fatal drunken-driving accident asked for leniency during a first appeal Wednesday.

Sgt. Jerry Onken should be released from prison and placed on probation for the sake of his children, attorney Park Seon-ki told the three-judge panel. Onken was sentenced to three years in prison Feb. 5.

Onken ran a red light Nov. 28 while driving around 49 mph near the Suwon intersection of Highway 1, striking a compact car with five people inside. A female passenger in the back seat, Ki Kyoung-sun, 22, was thrown from the car and died from a head injury.

At the same hearing Wednesday, prosecutors asked to increase the original sentence to five years, saying Onken has not reached an agreement with the victim’s family on compensation.

Defense attorney Park turned in letters from Onken’s wife and father as part of the appeal. Onken, of 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Suwon Air Base, has been in the Army for 13 years and has a son and a daughter.

After the crash, Onken and two other soldiers fled the scene, police said. Authorities located him on base, and a blood test was taken about six hours after the crash, trial testimony revealed. Prosecutors estimated his blood alcohol level was about .103 after the crash.

The other two soldiers faced unspecified administrative actions from their unit, an Army spokesman has said.

Onken admitted to drinking on the evening of the crash, saying he had three beers and two whiskey cocktails between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. He said he was sightseeing until the 12:10 a.m. crash.

Onken said he was shaken by the accident and drank two beers and smoked a cigarette after the accident because he was nervous. Onken and his attorney contested the prosecution’s blood-alcohol- level estimate, and the soldier apologized numerous times in court for the incident.

The case marked the first time an American servicemember was held in South Korean police custody before trial under a revised treaty between the U.S. and South Korean governments.

The judges will announce their decision April 14 in Suwon.


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