Prosecutors Suggest Motive After Fire on Navy Ship

Sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays was allegedly 'disgruntled' because his SEAL training fell through
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2021 8:03 AM CDT
Updated Dec 14, 2021 8:33 AM CST
Navy: Sailor Started Fire That Destroyed Warship
In this July 12, 2020, file photo, smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego after an explosion and fire on board the ship at Naval Base San Diego.   (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

(Newser) Update: Prosecutors say a Navy sailor set fire to his ship last year because he was "disgruntled" after dropping out of training to become a Navy SEAL, reports the AP. Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays is accused of starting a fire that led to the destruction of the USS Bonhomme Richard, injuring dozens. Mays denies it, and his attorneys say no physical evidence ties him to the crime. Prosecutors maintain he was unhappy with the Navy after being assigned to the ship when his SEAL training fell through. (Why he dropped out isn't specified.) A hearing is underway to determine whether a military trial will follow. Our original story from July 29 follows:

An explosion and fire last summer aboard a US Navy ship docked outside of San Diego left dozens of sailors and civilians injured. Now, the Navy has charged one of its own. In a statement cited by CBS News and the AP, a spokesman for the 3rd Fleet says the unnamed sailor, a seaman's apprentice who was a member of the USS Bonhomme Richard's crew at the time of the July 12, 2020, incident, has been charged "in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation." The specific charges: aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel, per Cmdr. Sean Robertson. Although Navy officials don't believe the sailor meant to destroy the 840-foot-long amphibious assault ship, which had about 160 sailors and officers on board, strong winds from San Diego Bay made the fire worse.

The ship burned for four days—hundreds of military and civilian firefighters were required to put out the fire, with the help of helicopters—and had too much damage to it to be saved. Estimates to replace it are said to be up to $4 billion. Upward of 60 sailors and civilians sustained minor injuries, smoke inhalation, and heat exhaustion. Court-martial charges against the sailor are being considered, the Navy statement notes. Another investigation is expected to call for disciplinary action against individuals responsible for conditions on the ship that exacerbated the spread of the fire, which the AP calls the Navy's "worst warship blaze outside of combat in recent memory." (Read more Navy stories.)

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