Marine suspected of stealing, wrecking car near Camp Fuji
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 6, 2016
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Marine has been accused of stealing a car and crashing into a homeowner’s fence near Camp Fuji.
The Marine, who was not identified, is suspected of taking the automobile from a Gotemba home around 2 a.m. on Sept. 17, city officials said Thursday.
The Marine drove the car until striking a reinforced fence in front of another home, then fled to Camp Fuji, the officials said.
The homeowner notified police soon afterward but told the city only this week, prompting a special news conference by Gotemba Mayor Yohei Wakabayashi.
“As I am in a position to think about the safety of citizens, I urge the officials at the police station and prefectural police to make every effort in conducting the investigation and aim for early settlement of the case,” Wakabayashi said, according to city officials Thursday.
The suspect was in Marine custody and cooperating with a local police investigation, the officials said.
The Marine was alone and on his way back to Camp Fuji from Gotemba Station, the Mainichi Shimbun reported. The last trains arrive at Gotemba arrive around midnight, so it remains unclear what the Marine had been doing during the hours prior to the incident.
The officials could not confirm whether alcohol was involved, and Gotemba police declined to discuss the case.
Depending on his rank, the Marine may also face action from the military for violating the U.S. Forces Japan liberty order, which requires servicemembers in pay grades E1-E5 to be accompanied off base after 10 p.m., and maintains a 1 a.m.-5 a.m. curfew for those ranks.
Marine officials did not immediately respond to questions Thursday.
Crimes involving Marines and other servicemembers are a major political issue on Okinawa, a southern island that hosts about half of all U.S. forces in Japan.
A protest earlier this year on Okinawa drew tens of thousands of people following the arrest of a base civilian on murder-related charges, and a sailor’s arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.
However, servicemember crime is exceedingly rare near Camp Fuji, a rural area in the shadow of Mount Fuji, adjacent to a large Japan Self-Defense Forces training ground.
The last significant crime near Camp Fuji happened four years ago, Gotemba officials said. In the past 20 years, the city cited four felonies attributed to servicemembers.
Most Camp Fuji Marines serve short, unaccompanied tours. However, Marines sometimes arrive from elsewhere for training.
City officials were not sure Thursday where the Marine under suspicion is stationed.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.