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U.S. Marine Held in Okinawa Death

October 15, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ An 18-year-old high school student has died from injuries suffered in a hit-and-run accident in which a U.S. Marine has been charged, fueling tensions between residents on the southern island of Okinawa and the American military.

Yuki Uema died late Wednesday from head injuries, one week after Marine Cpl. Randall M. Eskridge allegedly struck her small motorcycle and fled the scene, police said.

``It can’t be forgiven as a mistake,″ Uema’s father, Tomihiro Katsuren, was quoted as saying by The Ryukyu Shimpo, an Okinawan newspaper, as he brought his daughter’s body home from the hospital.

Eskridge, 23, of LaPorte, Ind., was charged Tuesday with hit and run, driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury through professional negligence. The flight equipment technician has not entered a formal plea.

Since the accident, there have been demonstrations on Okinawa, about 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, demanding that a three-year-old agreement on handing over U.S. military suspects be reworked.

The agreement requires the United States to hand over to Japanese authorities American servicemen suspected of ``heinous crimes,″ such as murder and rape _ even before they are officially charged.

That agreement stemmed from the September 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl in which three U.S. servicemen were convicted. The crime outraged many people on the island, where most of the U.S. troops in Japan are stationed.

Marine spokesman Capt. Bret Curtis said the hit and run was not a heinous crime as defined by the agreement. The Marines refused to hand over Eskridge when the Okinawa police demanded it last week.

``We view this as a very serious, evil crime,″ Okinawan official Hitoshi Kugai said in a telephone interview.

Kugai said Thursday that many Okinawans don’t want the U.S. military to decide what constitutes a heinous crime.

The Marines have expressed their condolences to Uema’s family.

``This is a tragic, needless loss,″ said Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, commander of Marine Corps bases in Japan. ``We know there is little we can say to ease the Uema family’s tremendous grief and pain, but we are very sorry.″

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