Court Documents Identify Sailor Charged With Arson in Fire That Destroyed Ship

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The sailor, Ryan Sawyer Mays, who holds the fertile of seaman apprentice, is accused of starting 1 of the worst fires to engulf an American warship extracurricular combat.

Sailors and national  firefighters combating a blaze onboard the warship Bonhomme Richard astatine  Naval Base San Diego successful  July 2020.
Credit...United States Navy

John Ismay

Aug. 4, 2021, 8:40 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Investigators person identified the Navy sailor accused of starting a occurrence that engulfed the warship Bonhomme Richard and burned for days astatine a Navy basal successful San Diego past year.

The sailor, Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, joined the work successful May 2019 and holds the fertile of seaman apprentice, according to Navy records. The Navy formally charged Seaman Mays with aggravated arson and hazarding a vas past period but declined to supply further details until national hunt warrants were unsealed by a national tribunal successful San Diego connected Tuesday.

Documents filed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service picture a sailor who “hated” the Navy aft being sent to a warship pursuing a little stint arsenic a SEAL trainee successful precocious 2019.

Seaman Mays discontinue the hard six-month archetypal SEAL grooming people successful Coronado, Calif., aft conscionable 5 days, according to the filing.

The fire, 1 of the worst to engulf an American warship extracurricular combat, rendered the vessel inoperative portion it was pierside astatine the base. More than 400 sailors from 16 adjacent ships fought the blaze, which reached temperatures of 1,000 degrees and took 4 days to extinguish.

A lawyer representing Seaman Mays said his lawsuit had “maintained his innocence passim this full ordeal.”

“He’s presumed innocent, and we look guardant for the accidental to reappraisal the grounds and presenting a lawsuit connected his behalf,” the lawyer, Gary S. Barthel, said successful an interrogation connected Wednesday.

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Credit...The United States District Court for the Southern District of California

Seaman Mays, whose individuality was reported earlier by The Daily Beast, was confined successful a Navy brig from precocious August to astir mid-October 2020 and past released, according to Mr. Barthel. It is unclear wherefore the Navy freed Seaman Mays months earlier helium was formally charged.

After his merchandise from the brig, Seaman Mays reported to the unit of Amphibious Squadron 5 successful San Diego, wherever helium is presently assigned.

“He’s expected to execute his duties arsenic helium would immoderate different time of the week arsenic immoderate different sailor would,” Mr. Barthel said of his client. “There are nary restrictions connected his movement.”

Mr. Barthel said his lawsuit voluntarily discontinue the SEAL program, and hopes to re-enter grooming successful the future.

“I deliberation he’d similar to spell backmost if fixed the opportunity, if helium meets each the different qualifications,” Mr. Barthel said.

A spokesperson for the Naval Special Warfare Command successful Coronado, which oversees SEAL training, could not instantly corroborate the details described by N.C.I.S.

Navy records amusement that Seaman Mays near the Naval Special Warfare grooming halfway connected March 6, 2020, and reported to the Bonhomme Richard connected March 23.

The N.C.I.S. study said that the Bonhomme Richard’s bid maestro main — the ship’s senior-most enlisted sailor and a apical advisor to the commanding serviceman — described Seaman Mays arsenic “a idiosyncratic who showed disdain towards authorization and the U.S. Navy.” The study further noted that “the morale and behaviour of sailors who had aspired to go a SEAL, and past find themselves serving successful a much accepted relation connected a Navy ship, are often precise challenging.”

Seaman Mays was assigned to the Bonhomme Richard’s Deck Division, which is liable for maintaining the carnal information of the vessel — a occupation often involving manual labour specified arsenic removing rust and painting.

The warship was undergoing an extended attraction play and was moored erstwhile the blaze broke retired connected a Sunday morning, erstwhile less than 200 sailors were aboard. The unsealed documents said that Seaman Mays was connected work aboard the vessel that day.

Navy officials deemed the 800-foot-long amphibious warship a full nonaccomplishment aft repair estimates roseate to much than $3 billion. The vessel was decommissioned connected April 14, and towed done the Panama Canal. It volition beryllium chopped into scrap metallic successful Texas.

According to the N.C.I.S., a witnesser identified Seaman Mays arsenic the lone idiosyncratic who entered a conveyance retention country heavy wrong the vessel the greeting of the fire, soon earlier fume was seen rising from that compartment. The study said that helium whitethorn person near the retention country done an flight trunk and returned to his berthing area. A 2nd sailor recalled Seaman Mays coming into the berthing country to “tell everyone to get disconnected the vessel due to the fact that the vessel was connected fire.”

Seaman Mays filled retired a questionnaire for investigators 8 days aft the occurrence broke out, and was the lone subordinate of the unit aboard the vessel connected July 12, 2020, who reported smelling a “burning fuel/rubbery smell” from the fire, the documents said. Investigators said the terminology Seaman Mays utilized to picture the odor of the occurrence was “consistent with items and materials” that peculiar agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recovered successful the conveyance retention compartment aft the occurrence was extinguished.

Seaman Mays faces a preliminary proceeding known arsenic an Article 32 investigation, the results of which volition either urge helium beryllium sent to a court-martial oregon person the charges dismissed. The last determination connected whether Seaman Mays volition look proceedings volition beryllium made by the commandant of the Navy’s Third Fleet, Vice Adm. Steve Koehler.

Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a spokesperson for Third Fleet, confirmed that “Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays is the sailor who was charged July 29,” and said, “I person thing further to add.”

Seamus Hughes contributed research.

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