This screenshot from an All Nippon News report shows security camera footage from a car dealer in Iwakuni, Japan, Dec. 3, 2022.

This screenshot from an All Nippon News report shows security camera footage from a car dealer in Iwakuni, Japan, Dec. 3, 2022. (ANN)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — A U.S. Marine has met with and apologized to the owner of a vehicle that was stolen and then crashed last month outside this base near Hiroshima, according to a local media report.

The Marine, who has not been identified by local authorities or the Marine Corps, spent nearly two hours with the victim on Thursday, the local Chugoku newspaper reported the next day. In addition to apologizing, he promised to pay for any damages, the report said.

"The accused and the victim did meet yesterday, however, it would be inappropriate to provide additional information at this time due to the ongoing investigation,” base spokesman Maj. Gerard Farao told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday.

"We take all allegations seriously and are fully cooperating with Japanese authorities and their investigation,” he wrote. “We hold all service members to a high standard of professionalism and our service members are expected to show respect to the community that we call home.”

The Marine is suspected of stealing the car from a local dealer on Dec. 3, and the crash occurred the same day at an intersection in the Asahi machi section of Iwakuni, according to a news release from the city last month.

The Marine allegedly fled the crash scene without providing first aid or calling authorities, said the release, which did not provide injury details.

The city said the Marine was taken into custody at the time but did not say where he was held.

An Iwakuni police spokesman said Thursday that the incident is still under investigation and declined to provide further details.

The meeting came about a week after a group of Iwakuni citizens, unhappy about the incident, began collecting signatures for a petition urging changes to the status of forces agreement. SOFA spells out the rights and responsibilities for military and U.S. civilian personnel stationed in Japan.

“The victim came to us for help while we were conducting a sit-down protest at Mount Atago,” said Jungen Tamura, a former Iwakuni assemblyman and co-leader of the U.S. military watch group Rim Peace, during a phone interview with Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

Tamura said the petition, organized by three local citizens’ groups, aims to raise public awareness about the custodial issues with SOFA personnel.

Under SOFA, unless Japanese authorities make an arrest off base, the U.S. military retains custody until the Japanese prosecutors indict a suspect for off-duty crimes. The two countries have a “gentlemen’s agreement” for suspects accused of “heinous crimes,” such as murder and rape, to be handed over to Japanese authorities before indictment, according to the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee Agreement on Criminal Procedures.

Tamura said this keeps Japanese authorities from conducting a thorough investigation.

The groups aim to collect 20,000 signatures before submitting the petition to Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda, who also has signed the petition, Tamura said.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi expressed regret during a Dec. 27 news conference that a Marine was suspected of being involved in the incident.

“The Government of Japan is strongly urging the U.S. side to enforce discipline and sincerely respond to the injured parties,” he said.

Hayashi added that SOFA is “a major legal framework, and the Government of Japan has been dealing with each specific issue through the most appropriate measures to effectively and quickly respond depending on the situation.”

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.
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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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