Saturday night. Small town. Not much happening. On June 6 at 7 p.m., five men in their mid-20s were killing time in a yakitori place in Sunagawa, Hokkaido, eyeing the pub across the street, waiting for a table to open up. They waited and waited. Nobody left; the pub remained full.
What to do? Sunagawa, population roughly 20,000, is a former coal mining town whose last mine closed in 1987, leaving the area economically depressed and somewhat dull, entertainment-wise. There are pubs and there are roads – including one, National Route 12 linking Sapporo and Asahikawa, whose stretch through and beyond Sunagawa is wide, straight and encumbered by few stoplights. A drag racer’s dream.
Among the five young men were Ryuji Tanikoshi, 27, and Ryuichi Komi, 26. Tanikoshi works in construction, Komi in a demolition plant. Both are car buffs. Tanikoshi’s vehicle is a BMW X5, Komi’s a Chevrolet C1500. Over beer and shochu at the yakitori restaurant they mulled the options. How about driving to Takikawa, 7 km north, and drinking there? On the way maybe they could settle the question: Which is faster, the BMW or the Chev?
This is prologue to one of the most gruesome car crashes imaginable. The seemingly perfect innocence of the victims, a family of five apparently proceeding through a green light at 10:30 p.m. at normal speed in a light station wagon, makes understandable, if not necessarily acceptable, a protest Shukan Shincho (June 25) raises in its coverage of the horror: “Even so, the culprits won’t get the death penalty!” Four of the five family members were killed – Koichi Nagaoke, 44, his wife Fumie, also 44, and two of their three children, Megumi, 17 and Shota, 16. The survivor, a 12-year-old girl, remains unconscious in critical condition. Shota, ejected from the station wagon by the impact of the crash, was dragged some 1.5 km by one of the racing cars.
Tanikoshi, arrested and charged with dangerous driving resulting in death and injury, admitted causing the accident but said the light was green. This is impossible, argues Shukan Shincho, citing the traffic light’s internal mechanism which showed the light had turned red 30 seconds before Tanikoshi arrived. Koni, who apparently dragged Shota along, initially fled the scene but turned himself in to police the next morning. Among the charges he faces is hit and run. He reportedly told police he was unaware of dragging a body.
Tanikoshi and Komi have been friends since childhood, Shukan Shincho reports. Cars were a big part of their lives. Both left high school without graduating and had local reputations as toughs. From motorcycle hotrodding they graduated to automobile hotrodding. Both of them, but Komi especially, hung around a local car repair shop, picking up what knowledge they could and joyriding in abandoned cars which were not always roadworthy.
Komi’s background as reported by Shukan Shincho is tragic. His parents divorced when he was very young, but his father apparently harbored a lingering attachment to his ex-wife and begged her to take him back. She refused. It ended in murder-suicide. Ryuichi was 10. A grandmother took him in, then passed him on to an alcoholic uncle who beat him.
What happens now? As Shukan Shincho says, death sentences are highly unlikely. It cites a 1999 case in which a drunk truck driver hit and killed two small children; he got four years. Among campaigners for tougher sentences in such case is the children’s father – who admits, however, that harsh punishment is a double-edged sword. It may be a deterrent; on the other hand, it may encourage perpetrators to flee.© Japan Today