Home U.S Sailor, 20 accused of starting fire that destroyed $1.2 billion warship makes...

Sailor, 20 accused of starting fire that destroyed $1.2 billion warship makes court appearance

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A sailor accused of intentionally torching the $1.2 billion Bonhomme Richard warship last year made his first appearance at a San Diego military court Monday.

The hearing will determine whether there’s enough evidence in the case against Ryan Sawyer Mays – to order a trial. The 20-year-old was charged in August with aggregated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. 

He appeared for the pretrial hearing in uniform, despite dropping out of the Navy SEAL training five days into the program.

The Bonhomme Richard was approaching the end of a two-year upgrade expected to cost $250 million when the fire broke out in the ship’s lower storage area on July 12, 2020 at Naval Base San Diego. 

The 40,000-ton vessel was destroyed and will be decommissioned.

Investigators were led to Mays after interviewing the 177 service members assigned to the Bonhomme Richard, according to an NCIS search warrant.  

Navy Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays (center in blue mask and Navy uniform) arrived for a hearing at Naval Base San Diego Monday, which will determines whether he stands trial for aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel

Navy Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays (center in blue mask and Navy uniform) arrived for a hearing at Naval Base San Diego Monday, which will determines whether he stands trial for aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel

The Bonhomme Richard was destroyed by a fire that broke out in the ship’s lower storage area on July 12, 2020, at Naval Base San Diego

The Bonhomme Richard was destroyed by a fire that broke out in the ship’s lower storage area on July 12, 2020, at Naval Base San Diego

Several witnesses claimed to either see Mays around the scene of the fire before it was set, the warrant indicated.

More red flags were raised when Mays allegedly also lied to investigators about his personal life, claiming he had gotten another sailor pregnant.

When she was questioned, the sailor denied ever being pregnant and said Mays was ‘volatile and bipolar.’

The affidavit said Mays joined the Navy in 2019 ‘with the intent on becoming trained in the Advanced Electronics Computer Fields,’ but ‘changed his career goals to becoming a Navy SEAL.’ 

He was assigned as an ‘undesignated Seaman’ abroad the Bonhomme Richard after dropping out.

Sailor Seaman Kenji Velasco explained over the course of several interviews that he saw Mays enter Lower V, the lower vehicle storage area where the fire took place, minutes before the blaze started.

He said that he saw a ‘light-skin male’ wearing clean coveralls and a facemask who was carrying a silver or metal bucket and, when he passed Velasco, the person said, ‘I love deck,’ a sarcastic phrase Mays had said before.

He then told investigators that Mays hates the U.S. Navy and the Fleet, embittered against the service after dropping out five days into training to become a Navy SEAL. 

The ship fire reached 1,000F and damaged all 14 decks, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters last year.

The ship was docked in San Diego during the blaze, which continued for four days until it was eventually snuffed out by about 400 sailors from 16 vessels, a number of helicopters dumping water from above, the Naval Base San Diego Fire Department, and multiple volunteer fire departments from surrounding cities.

At least 63 people were injured, including 18 firefighters who filed workers’ compensation for suffering concussions, orthopedic issues, dehydration and smoke inhalation.

Mays appeared for the pretrial hearing Monday in uniform, despite out of the Navy SEAL training program after five days

Mays appeared for the pretrial hearing Monday in uniform, despite out of the Navy SEAL training program after five days

At least 63 people were injured in the blaze, which took crews four days to snuff out

At least 63 people were injured in the blaze, which took crews four days to snuff out

Mays told investigators he was involved in a romantic relationship with a petty officer and claimed she became pregnant by another sailor, an allegation that was never proven

Mays told investigators he was involved in a romantic relationship with a petty officer and claimed she became pregnant by another sailor, an allegation that was never proven

Mays will stand trial for aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel, if the Navy seeks a court martial

Mays will stand trial for aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel, if the Navy seeks a court martial

Photos show the charred insides of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which burned for more than four days

During a 10-hour interview with Navy investigators, Mays told them that he had been in a romantic relationship with Petty Officer Armelle Ane, according to official documents released in October.

Ane was not aboard the ship when the fire broke out but previously served with Mays.

Mays told officials that the two of them were engaged, and that the relationship ran into trouble when she was deployed to the UNSN Mercy, a Navy hospital ship that was deployed to Los Angeles to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Investigators eventually found Mays’ statement ‘mostly contradicted by the female sailor,’ after speaking with Ane – who also told Navy officials that Mays is ‘volatile and bipolar,’ according to the search warrant obtained by the service against Mays when he became a suspect. 

Mays is pictured in uniform in this file photo

Mays is pictured in uniform in this file photo

The affidavit also states that Mays gave authorities contradicting statements about where he kept his computer, ‘possibly for the purpose of frustrating the investigation,’ before investigators finally found it. 

Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez also revealed in a series of interviews that Mays ‘showed disdain toward authority and the U.S. Navy,’ and days before the fire had lashed out at a contractor who confronted him for sleeping during his duty day, an affidavit read.

An internal U.S. Navy investigation determined the fire was ‘preventable’ and placed some of the blame on dozens of members of the ship’s ‘inadequately prepared crew,’ according to a report released in October. 

The report spreads blame across a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the now retired three-star admiral who headed Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet, Vice Adm. Richard Brown, to the ship’s most senior commanders, lower ranking sailors and civilian program managers. 

In all, the report lists officers and sailors whose actions directly caused the ship’s destruction and another 17 who contributed to its loss. 

Mays was named the primary suspect for allegedly setting the 40,000-ton ship aflame shortly after military officials began investigating the cause of the fire. Above is a screenshot from a search warrant showing an Instagram post he made two days after the blaze

Mays was named the primary suspect for allegedly setting the 40,000-ton ship aflame shortly after military officials began investigating the cause of the fire. Above is a screenshot from a search warrant showing an Instagram post he made two days after the blaze

Investigators were led to Mays after a sailor claimed to either see Mays around the scene of the fire before it was set

Investigators were led to Mays after a sailor claimed to either see Mays around the scene of the fire before it was set

Two other sailors were faulted for not effectively helping the fire response.  

Investigators found three of four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering, including disconnected firehoses, and highly flammable liquid was found near the ignition site.

On June 14, 2020 – two days after the fire — Mays posted a photo of himself on Instagram, shirtless, with the caption, ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.’ Pressed by investigators about it, Mays said it was a reference to Apocalypse Now, the Francis Ford Coppola film about the Vietnam War. 

Mays was arrested in August after a yearlong investigation and began the booking process to be turned over to the Marine Corps. Air Station.

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