Sailor accused in ship fire was abandonment of Navy SEAL
SAN DIEGO – The sailor accused of starting a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard last year was assigned to the ship after abandoning training to become a Navy SEAL, and he has been described by some fellow sailors as a person who had contempt for the Navy, investigators said.
Details of Ryan Mays, 20, and the first investigations into the worst U.S. warship fire in recent memory were revealed in an unsealed search warrant in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Tuesday.
The Navy confirmed Mays was the sailor charged Thursday with aggravated arson and willfully endangering a ship.
His attorney, Gary Barthel, said he had not yet seen the search warrant and could not comment on what it was saying until he had a chance to review it.
“Ryan has maintained his innocence throughout this investigation,” he said.
The fire started on July 12, 2020 in the lower storage area, to which Mays duty station had access, according to the court document.
About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames projected a huge plume of black smoke from the 840-foot (256-meter) ship, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego as it underwent an upgrade from $ 250 million over two years.
The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days. Left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage, the vessel was subsequently scrapped. Estimates to replace it were $ 4 billion.
Officials investigating the damage to the ship discovered that three of the four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering: the fire hoses were disconnected and one was cut.
They also found uncapped bottles containing small amounts of highly flammable liquid near the ignition site, including one that tested positive for a heavy petroleum distillate such as diesel, kerosene or jet fuel, according to the document. court.
A day after the bottles were labeled as part of the crime scene, one of them disappeared from the scene. DNA testing was done on a strip removed from the missing bottle, but Mays’ DNA was not found there, according to the court document.
Some sailors on board told investigators they believed they saw Mays descend into the ship’s lower vehicle storage area, where the fire broke out shortly before the blaze broke out.
When investigators told him he was seen going down there before the fire started, Mays replied that he was being trapped, according to the court document.
Mays said he was in the hangar when he became aware of the fire. He described how he helped firefighters, alerting at least one crew member to the threat of the fire, and ultimately helped fight the blaze, according to the court document.
He denied starting the fire, according to the document.
Mays joined the Navy in 2019 and began the grueling training to become Navy SEAL in October of the same year. But gave up five days after starting it in Coronado. He was reassigned as a seaman and was part of the ship’s crew.
Mays was arrested after a 10-hour interview with investigators.
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