Photo/IllutrationPeople line up for a court gallery seat for the trial of Kazuho Ishibashi at the Yokohama District Court on Dec. 14. (Jin Nishioka)

YOKOHAMA—A court Dec. 14 sentenced a man to 18 years in prison over a road-rage incident that started with a parking dispute and ended with two parents being killed in front of their children.

The Yokohama District Court found Kazuho Ishibashi, 26, of Nakama, Fukuoka Prefecture, guilty of dangerous driving resulting in death and injury.

“It was a tenacious offense with a strong criminal intent,” Presiding Judge Shigeyuki Fukazawa said. “I cannot imagine the sadness of the parents.”

The case has garnered much attention because of the way the defendant terrorized a family of four on the Tomei Expressway in Oi, Kanagawa Prefecture, on the night of June 5, 2017.

At issue in the trial was whether Ishibashi could be convicted of dangerous driving if the vehicles involved in the road-rage incident were parked at the time.

Fukazawa and a jury of citizen judges determined that Ishibashi’s obstructive driving indeed led to the fatal crash.

According to prosecutors, Ishibashi became enraged after Yoshihisa Hagiyama, a 45-year-old automobile repair worker from Shizuoka, scolded him about his parking manners at a rest stop on the expressway.

Ishibashi decided he had to get in the last word, so he chased a van driven by Hagiyama’s wife, Yuka, 39, and carrying her husband and the couple’s two daughters.

Four times, Ishibashi cut in front of the van and slowed down, nearly causing a rear-end collision. Yuka had to finally pull over in the passing lane on the expressway.

Still angry after both vehicles had stopped, Ishibashi shoved Hagiyama, trying to provoke a fight, witnesses said.

A large truck then crashed into the van from behind, killing Hagiyama and Yuka and injuring their two daughters.

The defense did not dispute the general sequence of events leading to the deaths on the expressway. But Ishibashi’s lawyers said he should not be held responsible for the deaths and injuries because the law defines “dangerous driving” as “an act of approaching extremely close to a moving vehicle and driving at a speed that causes serious dangers to others.”

The defense said that since Ishibashi’s car and the van were not moving at the time of the crash, the law did not apply in Ishibashi’s case.

The court, in fact, rejected prosecutors’ argument that Ishibashi’s act of stopping his own car on the expressway meets the definition of dangerous driving.

“Based on the requirement of the law, it cannot be assessed that stopping a vehicle is an act of driving,” the court said.

However, the court accepted the prosecution’s argument that Ishibashi’s driving behavior created a situation that put the family in danger.

“Ishibashi’s acts of obstructing the victims’ vehicle four times, stopping the car, and committing subsequent violent deeds are closely linked, and the danger became a reality,” the court said.

“There was a very high possibility of a rear-end collision,” the ruling said. “The accident occurred as Ishibashi walked back to his car. Therefore, the dangerous situation was still present.”

The ruling added that the danger was enhanced because the incident occurred at night on an expressway with steady traffic, and in a passing lane where no car is expected to stop.

During the trial, the court heard testimony from one of the daughters who described the terror she felt by Ishibashi’s actions and her despair at never being able to see her parents again.

Prosecutors had demanded a 23-year sentence for Ishibashi, who has a history of road-rage incidents.

(This article was written by Naoto Iizuka and Hirohisa Yamashita.)