Marine in Fatal Accident on Okinawa 'Made a Bad Mistake,' Neller Says

A Japanese driver's damaged vehicle sits at a police station in Naha, Okinawa, on Sunday, Nov. 19. Police are investigating the fatal traffic accident that involved a U.S. Marine driving a truck. (Kazuki Sawada/Kyodo News via AP)
A Japanese driver's damaged vehicle sits at a police station in Naha, Okinawa, on Sunday, Nov. 19. Police are investigating the fatal traffic accident that involved a U.S. Marine driving a truck. (Kazuki Sawada/Kyodo News via AP)

Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Commandant, said Tuesday the Marines were cooperating fully with Japanese authorities investigating the fatal traffic accident on Okinawa last Sunday involving a Marine PFC allegedly driving under the influence.

The Japanese courts "will adjudicate whatever happens to him," Neller said of the Marine identified by Okinawan police as 21-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Nicholas James-McClean, who will likely face criminal charges.

As of Monday, James-McClean was in the custody of local police, a Marine spokesman said.

"Obviously, we wish it never happened but it did. This one individual appears to have made a bad mistake," Neller told a small group of reporters following a ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Local police have said that James-McClean's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit when his two-ton military vehicle collided with a mini-truck at an intersection in Naha, the Okinawan capital, at about 5:25 a.m. Sunday local time. U.S. Forces Japan also issued a statement saying that "alcohol may have been a factor" in the accident.

Japanese media reports have said that James-McClean's vehicle appeared to have run a red light. The Marine suffered slight injuries but the driver of the mini-truck, 61-year-old Hidemasa Taira, died later in a local hospital.

Neller said the incident should not reflect on the 22,000 Marines on Okinawa striving to be good neighbors on an island with a large and continuing protest movement against the presence of U.S. bases.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Forces Japan, said in a statement after the accident, "I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident."

Following the accident, U.S. Forces Japan announced that it was cutting off local liberty for all troops in the region and prohibiting the consumption of alcohol until further notice.

"It is extremely regrettable that this accident happened even though Japanese government has repeatedly asked for the thorough implementation of preventive measures and enforcement of disciplines," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Monday.

"It's the same thing over and over again every time, I'm speechless," Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told the Washington Post of continuing problems with the U.S. military presence.

U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors working for U.S. forces have been accused of multiple crimes in Okinawa this year.

From January to October 2017, two have been arrested on allegations of robbery, two on allegations of rape and six on allegations of violent offenses, according to the Okinawa Prefecture Police website.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Show Full Article