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NAHA, Okinawa — A 22-year-old Marine was sentenced Wednesday to a year in Japanese prison — suspended for four years — for stealing a taxi and taking it for a joyride in October.

Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Eckersen, assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion on Camp Foster, nodded in acceptance as he heard the verdict at Naha District Court.

During a hearing earlier this month, Eckersen admitted he took the vehicle after finding the key in the ignition in Chatan’s American Village.

Cab drivers, a motorcyclist and police officers pursued the stolen taxi on Highway 58. The 15-minute chase ended when Eckersen sideswiped five cars stopped at a red light at the Isa intersection in Ginowan, rendering the taxi inoperable, according to testimony.

Eckersen and a second Marine, who had been riding in the backseat, fled the scene on foot but were soon arrested.

A field sobriety test found that Eckersen was intoxicated, according to a police report.

Charges against the second Marine were later dropped.

Chief Judge Hiroyuki Yoshii said the court decided to suspend the sentence because Eckersen is young, showed remorse and had no previous criminal conviction.

"Your action could have caused irrevocable serious consequences," Yoshii admonished Eckersen in court.

"Keep this experience in mind for the rest of your life so that you don’t have to come back to court as a criminal defendant either here in Japan or in the United States."

Eckersen could face administrative or judicial action by the Marine Corps for any offense that wasn’t tried in the Japanese court, 1st Lt. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Marine spokesman, said in an e-mail to Stripes.

"At this time it would be inappropriate to speculate on possible actions Lance Corporal Eckersen’s command may take," Rankine-Galloway added.

Stars and Stripes reporter Cindy Fisher contributed to this report.


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