Court martial ordered for sailor accused of arson in USS Bonhomme Richard fire
Last updated 3/4/2022 at 7:27pm
City News Service
A court martial was ordered for a San Diego-based Navy sailor accused of setting fire to the USS Bonhomme Richard, it was announced Friday, Feb. 25.
Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays was charged with arson and willful hazarding of a vessel for allegedly setting the July 12, 2020, fire, which burned for several days while the warship was docked at Naval Base San Diego.
Following an Article 32 hearing held late last year in a Naval Base San Diego courtroom, during which evidence was presented to determine whether Mays should face further criminal proceedings, Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, commander of U.S 3rd Fleet, referred charges against Mays for a general court martial, according to a Navy statement.
Prosecutors alleged that Mays was “disgruntled” with the Navy after dropping out of the SEAL training program.
Mays has denied any role in the fire, though other sailors have testified to seeing him enter the ship’s “Lower V” area – where investigators said the fire originated – just before the blaze broke out.
Defense expert witnesses at Mays’ Article 32 hearing challenged findings that the blaze was an incendiary – or deliberate – fire, and alleged further analysis of the fire scene should have been completed before investigators ruled out possible accidental causes of the blaze.
Special Agent Matthew Beals, a certified fire investigator with ATF and prosecution witness, testified that the fire was sparked by someone touching an open flame to an ignitable liquid applied to tri-wall containers in the Lower V.
According to a search warrant affidavit, Mays was interviewed regarding the blaze and maintained his innocence, while denying being in the Lower V that day and stating “that he was being set up.”
Other details in an affidavit indicate that firefighting equipment may have been sabotaged. Firefighting stations in the Lower and Upper V areas were found to be “not in their normal configuration,” while fire fighting hoses connected to the stations were found cut or disconnected.
A Navy official told ATF investigators that he believed the stations were “purposely tampered with and/or disconnected.”
While Mays is the only person criminally charged in connection with the fire, a Navy investigation determined that failures regarding training and oversight, among other factors, also contributed to the ship’s destruction.