YOKOHAMA, Japan — A U.S. sailor testified Thursday that he didn’t punch a taxi driver during an argument over an unpaid fare.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Paul Booker, 23, is accused of punching Iwao Tabata in the face Sept. 17 at the Yokohama train station at 6:20 a.m., after he and others left the cab without paying the 1,750-yen fare (about $15).

“I did not punch him. ... I didn’t punch the driver,” Booker told the court. He said he didn’t know who punched the driver and that the driver was not injured when he left the scene.

According to Yokohama District Court records, Tabata’s nose and dentures were broken during the incident.

Booker, assigned to the USS Blue Ridge, also testified that a Japanese woman he and other sailors met before taking the taxi promised to pay the fare. He said he realized the fare wasn’t paid when the driver got out of the taxi and tried to grab him, shouting “money, money.”

Booker said when he saw the driver grab a sailor he was with, he discovered the woman didn’t have enough money to pay.

Booker told the court that he asked the woman to pay with her credit card. “She said ‘yes’ and walked over [to the taxi driver], so I thought it would be over,” Booker said.

Booker said he left without seeing the woman pay because he didn’t want to get into trouble.

“There were a lot of people coming, so I didn’t want to be around,” he said.

Another sailor returned and paid the fare, according to court records.

Neither the sailors nor the investigators were able to identify the woman.

Tabata, testifying at the last hearing, said he saw Booker’s face when the sailor threw a punch at him. He said while he was confronting another sailor, when Booker “suddenly approached me and punched me.”

The court will finish hearing the case June 21.

Because Booker left the scene before police arrived, he was not placed in Japanese custody. He has been restricted to Yokosuka Naval Base, according to his attorney.

Japanese police were led to Booker by investigating accounts given by Tabata, witnesses and sailors, police officials said. Booker is the only sailor indicted in the incident.

author picture
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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