By Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials have been in touch with their Japanese counterparts to seek a resolution in the case of U.S. naval officer Ridge Alkonis, who is serving a three-year prison term in Japan over a deadly car crash, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.
Alkonis, 34, began serving his sentence in late July after being convicted of causing the deaths of two Japanese citizens in the May 2021 incident, which took place during a family outing while the U.S. Navy lieutenant was serving in Japan, according to media reports.
"This was a tragic event that resulted in the loss of two precious lives. It's caused tremendous heartache for all involved," Price said when asked during a regular press briefing about Washington's communications with Japan on the case.
He said U.S. officials in Washington and Tokyo, including ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, were in touch with Japanese officials, as well as with Alkonis' family.
"We're continuing to monitor the situation with the Department of Defense and our embassy in Tokyo to explore all options for finding a successful resolution that is consistent with U.S. law, with Japanese law, as well as with existing treaties," Price said.
His family says Alkonis lost consciousness without warning while driving. According to U.S. media reports, the family's car then drifted out of its lane and crashed into parked cars at a restaurant, killing a woman and her son-in-law. Alkonis was detained and imprisoned for 26 days in solitary confinement.
Alkonis' family in online appeals has argued that the officer, who has expressed remorse and attempted to help the victims' family, was convicted based on a "false narrative" that he knowingly drove while fatigued.
The U.S. government has not said publicly Alkonis is wrongfully detained, a determination that is sometimes made when Americans are jailed overseas.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Sandra Maler)