A small group of family and friends of Lt. Ridge Alkonis formed a rally to get President Joe Biden’s attention on his way to speak at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
It’s been one year since U.S. Navy officer Alkonis was imprisoned in Japan after being convicted of negligent driving in the deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law in May of 2021. He’s currently serving a three-year sentence.
Lt. Alkonis was driving down Mount Fuji with his family when the car he was driving ran into pedestrians and parked cars. U.S. Navy investigators said Alkonis suffered from acute mountain sickness and a loss of consciousness.
According to Ryan Bowcutt, Alkonis’ brother-in-law, Biden promised Alkonis’ wife, Brittany Alkonis, that he would bring her husband home. At the State of the Union Address in February, Biden told her, “I promise you, we’re not giving up.”
It’s been six months since the promise was made and Alkonis’ family and friends were hoping to remind Biden of his promise today.
“It was a great opportunity to remind the president during a trip that he’s making, in support of veterans, that there’s a service member, and his family right now, who really needs him,” Bowcutt said. “It’s time to bring him home, it’s way past time to bring him home.”
Heidi Hart, Alkonis’ mother-in-law, said they planned the small rally last minute.
“We just wanted to remind (Biden) that this is still an issue, and we’re all still fighting to get Ridge home,” she said.
Hart said they weren’t expecting it to take so much time to get him home.
“School’s about to start, they have three kids, and they don’t know if they should go to school in Japan or California, or if they need to homeschool,” she said. “They’re just kind of in limbo, and they have been for the last year.”
Biden is slated to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Aug. 18. Hart and Bowcutt hope the two can negotiate Alkonis’ release, despite the complex factors at play.
“But there is some reason for hope that he’ll be able to at least come back to the U.S. before his sentence is over,” Bowcutt said. “And, of course, what we want to see is freedom for him ASAP. Tomorrow would be great.”
Sen. Mike Lee has been vocal about getting Alkonis home. In February, Lee tweeted at Kishida, giving him an ultimatum — one that was not met.
“Senator Mike Lee has said recently that he’s confident that Ridge will be back on U.S. soil within months,” Bowcutt said. “I don’t know how many months he thinks the maximum would be, and I don’t know whether that means Ridge would be in a prison back on U.S. soil or whether he would actually be free.”
Bowcutt said their hearts go out to the family involved in the tragic accident.
“We feel for them and no one feels for them more strongly than Ridge does,” he said. “And I know he would give anything to go back and undo what happened, but the fact is that it was nothing more than a tragic accident, and there’s no amount of prison time for Ridge that can do anything to make the situation better for anyone.”