By SHOKO TAMAKI/ Staff Writer
December 31, 2020 at 07:30 JST
These personal belongings including a bag, top left, and a wristwatch, seen here on Nov. 4 in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, were carried by Yuri Ishikawa when she was killed in an expressway tunnel collapse in 2012. The mementos, except the keys, will be put on display at a training facility of Central Nippon Expressway Co. (Shoko Tamaki)
YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Prefecture--Charred work-related documents dated Dec. 2, 2012, remain stuck fast to a young woman's bag.
The stopped hands of her watch tell the time of 9:30 for eternity, about one and a half hours after the tragedy that took her life and eight others.
The mementos will offer future generations of Central Nippon Expressway Co. (NEXCO Central) officials and workers a sobering lesson from the deadly expressway tunnel collapse.
Nine people died after ceiling panels fell on vehicles in the Tokyo-bound lanes of the Chuo Expressway’s Sasago Tunnel in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Dec. 2 eight years ago. Yuri Ishikawa, who owned the charred bag and watch, was one of the victims. She was 28.
Now, her parents have agreed to have their daughter’s personal belongings exhibited as safety reminders at a staff training facility of the superhighway’s operator.
They are calling on Nagoya-based NEXCO Central to continue facing up squarely to the accident.
On Nov. 4, Shinichi, Yuri’s 71-year-old father, and Keiko, her 62-year-old mother, set out the mementoes one by one--a bag, a pouch, a wristwatch, a bunch of keys, a card case and a necklace--in front of NEXCO Central officials at their home in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“The date on the documents in the bag, the time shown on the watch, the business card ... I think Yuri left the best of her emotions in these mementos,” Keiko was seen telling the officials.
“We do want to keep them for the rest of our lives, but we hope you will make good use of them instead so you will never end up taking people’s lives again,” Shinichi told them.
One of the officials replied, “We will keep the mementos properly so the lessons will not fade away."
Yuri was returning from a trip to Yamanashi Prefecture with her friends, with whom she shared a residence in Tokyo, that tragic day.
Yuri was carrying the items with her. The bag and the pouch were both presents from Keiko.
The personal belongings are scorched because the van Yuri was in was crushed under a fallen ceiling panel and burst into flames, killing five of those who were aboard.
Keiko decided, after hesitating, that Yuri’s keys, including a house key, should remain with her and her husband.
“Yuri used to carry them around with her,” the mother said. “I feel like keeping them will allow me to feel close to Yuri.”
She placed the keys in a drawer of a household Buddhist altar alongside Yuri’s ashes.
A business card of Yuri was found without a single scorch mark in the van. An official with the Yamanashi prefectural police identification division said how it remained intact cannot be accounted for scientifically.
The couple has met with NEXCO Central officials on 94 occasions on or around the anniversary of the day of the month their daughter died. They were not always cordial in their discussions and occasionally directed harsh words at them because of their anger and grief.
The couple have nevertheless thought that, if they were to refuse to see the officials, they would have to live with their bitterness forever, with the truth never coming out. They have therefore continued meeting with them, asking that the cause of the accident be determined.
NEXCO Central is building an “Anzen Keihatsu-kan” (safety education hall), a staff training facility, on the grounds of its branch office in Hachioji, western Tokyo. The hall, whose aim is to develop staff who put safety ahead of everything else, will be completed, at the earliest, before the current fiscal year ends in March.
The hall will exhibit a life-size model of a section of the Sasago Tunnel, measuring 9 meters tall and 10 meters wide, and the van that Yuri and her friends were in. NEXCO Central is also holding talks with family members of other accident victims on the possible display of their mementos.
The accident occurred when metal bolts for suspending ceiling panels came off, resulting in panels collapsing over a section extending about 140 meters, crushing three vehicles, killing nine and injuring three others.
Bereaved family members sued NEXCO Central and one of its subsidiaries for damages. It was learned during the court proceedings that hammering tests, which involve tapping the ceiling of a tunnel with a hammer to locate any loose bolts or other abnormalities, had not been done for 12 years prior to the accident.
Many of the bereaved family members continue questioning why the ceiling panels had been allowed to remain in such a dangerous state.
The safety education hall represents a silver lining of hope for Shinichi and Keiko. They hope some concerned officials will feel pangs of conscience at the sight of the mementos and the van and come forward to provide information that could help identify the cause of the accident.
The couple are also calling on NEXCO Central to allow public access to the hall so a broader audience can learn about the tragedy.
In the criminal investigation, police sent papers to the Kofu District Public Prosecutors Office on eight officials, including a former president of NEXCO Central, on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. The office in 2018 decided not to prosecute any of the eight because of insufficient grounds for charging them.
The Kofu Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution decided that the case was “inappropriate for non-prosecution” with regard to two of the officials, one from NEXCO Central and the other from its subsidiary, who were in charge of tunnel inspection.
The district public prosecutors office, however, again decided in April this year not to prosecute the two officials, thereby ending the criminal investigation.
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