A young sailor accused of setting fire to a United States Navy warship was angry that he was assigned to deck duty after failing to become a Navy SEAL, according to prosecutors.

Ryan Sawyer Mays, 21, is charged with aggravated arson and arson attack on a ship, charges he denied.

On the first day of the court martial at the San Diego Naval Base, Attorney Commander Leah O’Brien described Mays as arrogant, adding that the fire was “a malicious act of defiance gone wrong.”

Image:
US Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays pictured in August. Image: AP

The USS Bonhomme Richard burned for nearly five days in July 2020, sending smoke over San Diego, where the ship had been for a major upgrade.

There were about 115 sailors on board and nearly 60 suffered heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries.

The ship was so badly damaged that it had to be sunk.

But Mays’ military defense attorney, Lt. Tayler Haggerty, said prosecutors did not present physical evidence to show he was behind the fire.

He said investigators had ignored evidence and witness accounts so they could find a scapegoat for the loss of an expensive ship that had been mismanaged by senior officers.

Sarcastic and irreverent

Once it was decided that the culprit was Mays, a sailor known for being sarcastic and irreverent, “nothing else mattered,” he added.

“Just because the government eliminates, ignores, evidence doesn’t mean the court has to.”

US Navy helicopters and city firefighters continue to fight a fire on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, San Diego, California on July 13, 2020. REUTERS / Mike Blake

The trial, which is expected to last two weeks and is before Navy Judge Captain Derek Butler, was hampered by the inability of many witnesses to remember what happened on the day of the fire.

‘I can’t remember much’

NCO Jeffrey Garvin, the warship’s former fire marshal, shrank back tears when the prosecution was asked about the day, saying, “I’m still trying to sort it out on my own in therapy. I apologize.”

Later, he said, “I can’t remember much.”

More than 20 senior officers and sailors have been disciplined by Navy leaders in connection with what have been described as widespread leadership failures that contributed to the disaster.

A Navy report last year claimed fire damage was preventable and unacceptable, blaming the lack of training, coordination, communication, fire preparation, equipment maintenance, and command and control.

Some of the crew members who testified said the lower vehicle storage area where the fire broke out was filled with bottles, tools, generators, tractors and other equipment.

Defense lawyers said investigators ignored the fact that lithium batteries were stored alongside combustible material such as cardboard boxes and that there was evidence pointing to another sailor who has since been fired from the Navy.

The process continues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.