This article was first published in the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.
Last week, I wrote about the difficult case of Ridge Alkonis, a Latter-day Saint man who was stationed in Japan with the U.S. Navy when his car rolled into two cars in the parking lot of a restaurant at the base of Mount Fiji.
Two people died of their injuries. Alkonis began serving a three-year prison sentence last week. Japanese investigators did not provide him with any medical aid or conduct any medical test, but a judge determined he fell asleep at the wheel, a ruling upheld on appeal, while Navy neurologists reported after an examination that Alkonis blacked out from acute mountain sickness.
His family says that diagnosis means the courts overlooked Alkonis’ own medical emergency, one that caused him to lose consciousness through no fault of his own. They say he collapsed mid-sentence while talking with his 8-year-old daughter. She yelled and kicked the driver’s seat while the car drifted at 30 mph into the parked vehicles. He remained unconscious even after the impact. The family believes that confirms that he had not simply drifted off to sleep.
Alkonis and his family are heartbroken for the victims and their families, his parents told me.
“There’s a lot of people that are suffering,” Derek Alkonis said. “There’s the Japanese family that’s suffering the loss of their family members. We feel for them.”
“It’s just a tearing apart, just a ripping asunder that’s happened for all involved,” Suzi Alkonis said. “That is a true tragedy.”
An Alkonis family friend said that during the trial, a prosecutor asked Alkonis if he was praying for the two who died, an 85-year-old woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law.
“Every day,” Alkonis said.
That information and the knowledge that Alkonis is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints led me to ask his parents how their faith was impacting their lives during this maelstrom.
“We use the word sustain a lot in the church,” Suzi Alkonis said. “I just wrote to a friend who said she was praying for us that I don’t think that I could get up in the morning and put on my clothes and face my day without those prayers. It is very, very real, the amount of sustaining energy that we receive from those prayers. And Ridge has felt it. (His wife) Brittany feels it. This family feels it. We wouldn’t be able to face a day without it.”
Derek and Suzi Alkonis have been interviewed by over a dozen national and local television and print outlets. They said only the Deseret News had asked about their faith.
“I appreciate your questions and allowing us to talk especially about our faith,” Derek Alkonis said.
“It’s part of the story,” Suzi Alkonis said. “I mean, I do believe it’s why we are able to get up every day and are able to move forward.”
It’s yet another reminder that journalists seeking the whole story should remember that a majority of people believe in a higher power. It is legitimate in reporting a story to ask sources about how their faith is impacting their view of events and their experience.
Ridge Alkonis’ parents say he asked to speak in his Latter-day Saint congregation the day before he reported to prison. He noted that not all scriptural stories have happy endings. He said we don’t fully understand why bad things happen to good people, but that people can rely on God’s love and grace to overcome tragedies and suffering.
“Our Heavenly Father’s ability to take away our pain and suffering is unbound and as our faith in that ability grows, so does the hope that he will use it to bless us in our times of need,” he said.
His extended family gathered online after that church meeting. They sang songs, shared testimonies and finished with prayer.
“It was a wonderful family night,” Derek Alkonis said.
The Alkonis family is asking U.S. officials to petition Japanese officials to release Ridge Alkonis. Meanwhile, his wife and three children are trying to cope with his absence while he works in prison.
“Where he’s expected to go, the prisoners make a soap,” Suzi Alkonis said.
The 8-year-old who tried to bring her father back to consciousness on the road doesn’t like to say he is in prison, Suzi Alkonis reported.
“She says he’s going to his new job in the soap factory because it’s less depressing.”
My recent stories
The startling case of Ridge Alkonis (July 28)
About the church
The church has updated and improved its Book of Mormon app with three new tabs. The “Discover” tab is a gateway to additional content. The “Watch” tab opens a full library of available Book of Mormon Videos segments. The “Share” tab provides a quick-response (or QR) code to share with smartphones in over 100 languages. See the Church News story.
The church also announced improvements to the Gospel Library app, including some shortcuts.
There is a new church historian and recorder. Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. will be released from that position and as a General Authority Seventy and granted emeritus status at October general conference. Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy, will take over the role of church historian and recorder. Read more, including eight highlights Elder Curtis chose from his three-year service.
Police arrested two 18-year-olds and one 17-year-old in connection with vandalism of eight Latter-day Saint meetinghouses in the area of St. George, Utah.
What I’m reading
We’ve lost two true icons in the last few days.
I never saw Bill Russell play, but as a boy growing up in Boston just after he retired, I learned all about him and his legacy. He continued to build that legacy by using his fame and voice to lead people to think differently about race relations, achievement and living a good life. I learned even more about him from this story and many others this week. Did you know he was seventh in the world in the high jump at one time?
I did listen to Vin Scully call baseball games, and I treasured him. The one that stood out the most for me was watching the first World Series with my fiancée after returning home from my mission. That was 1988, when Scully’s words amplified the incredible pinch-hit home run by Kirk Gibson that lifted the Los Angeles Dodgers past the Oakland Athletics.
Scully was one of the greatest American storytellers, and he just happened to do it as a broadcaster. His friendly, kind voice and his classy demeanor and good life reminded me of the late John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach. Here are clips of his 20 most legendary calls. Here’s a nice overview of his life. And here’s a tremendous oral history of the man, his voice and his stories.
If you want to see some really cool data on trends in how world records fall in different running events on the track, read this. You can also read about the Bible verse that helped Sydney McLaughlin recently break her own world record.
I highly recommend the following story to everyone. It explores the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, through the eyes of a family whose 10-year-old daughter was killed. She was a softball player, and I’m coaching a team of girls her age in fastpitch softball right now, so this story resonated deeply. But it’s bigger than that. The story reveals the impact on a family and a community while exploring bigger issues like race and gun control without taking sides. Brilliantly crafted.
There’s a new Jackie Robinson Museum in New York. Gotta add that to my bucket list.