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YOMITAN, Okinawa — A U.S. soldier has been identified as the driver of a car police suspect was involved in a fatal hit-and-run Saturday, Okinawa officials said Tuesday.

The soldier is in the custody of military police, who have arranged for him to be questioned by Okinawa investigators, officials said. His name was not released.

Army Col. James T. Woodard, commander of the 10th Support Group at Torii Station, visited the Yomitan village office Tuesday morning to offer his condolences to the victim’s family and the Okinawan community.

Woodard declined to give any personal information about the soldier, Yomitan town spokesman Hideki Hamagawa said. Woodard also told Mayor Keizo Yasuda that the soldier in custody didn’t own the car and that the owner was on a mission elsewhere, Hamagawa said.

During the visit, Yasuda handed a letter to Woodard urging him to discipline his soldiers and take measures to prevent such incidents.

“The relationship between the residents and Torii Station is good and I hope you will take proper measures that will not ruin that relationship,” Yasuda said to Woodard in the meeting, according to Hamagawa.

On Okinawa, where there is a growing sentiment to decrease the U.S. military footprint on the island, cases like this are routinely used by anti-base politicians and groups to push their agendas.

In March 2008, the governors of 14 prefectures that host U.S. bases in Japan petitioned the national government to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement after several high-profile arrests and criminal allegations involving troops on Okinawa.

Army officials would not comment Tuesday on the hit-and-run case, saying only that they are working with Japanese police.

Japanese news services reported the soldier surrendered to military authorities Monday after admitting he had taken a car with front-end damage to a local garage Saturday, the day the body of a 66-year-old Okinawa man was found by the side of a road about a mile from Torii Station.

The victim, identified only as Masakazu Hokama, died of a broken neck, Okinawa police reported.

The car, a white sedan with the “Y” license plates that indicate the owner registered the car under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, has been seized by Okinawa police. Investigators are conducting a DNA test on hair found in the vehicle’s broken windshield, according to media reports.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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