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Trial for sailor accused of burning Bonhomme Richard set for September

Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays faces 2 counts of arson and denies starting the massive fire


Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, denies starting the Bonhomme Richard fire.

Photo/Andrew Dyer/Tribune News Service

Andrew Dyer
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego-based sailor charged with arson in connection to the devastating 2020 fire on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard will stand trial this September, the Navy announced Wednesday.

Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, faces two counts under the military justice system — aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. Mays denies starting the fire.

The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 19 and run for two weeks, according to Lt. Sam Boyle, a Navy spokesperson assigned to 3rd Fleet in San Diego. Mays has not yet entered a plea, nor has he elected whether to face trial by judge or by jury, Boyle said.

Mays was on duty on the ship the morning of Sunday, July 12, 2020. The seaman was seen carrying a heavy bucket down into the ship’s lower vehicle storage area just after 8 a.m., according to a sailor who was on watch who testified at Mays’ preliminary Article 32 hearing in December.

Prosecutors say Mays was disgruntled with the Navy after finding himself assigned to deck duty on the ship after washing out of Navy SEAL training. At the December hearing, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arson expert said the fire was intentionally set in the lower vehicle storage area, or “lower-v,” by someone holding an open flame to a tri-wall container, which is essentially a large cardboard box used to store equipment.

However, prosecutors did not present any physical evidence tying Mays to the fire at either of his preliminary hearings and relied on eyewitnesses — one who says he saw Mays near the scene just before the fire began and others who heard him make comments disparaging the Navy.

Acrid black smoke billowed from the ship for the better part of two days as firefighters from the Navy and local municipal agencies struggled to get water to the flames. Temperatures on board the steel ship soared, compounding the risk to those fighting the blaze. The flames consumed nearly the entire interior of the ship from the waterline up, a Navy investigation found.

The fire was declared extinguished after burning for more than four days.


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The ship was decommissioned and scrapped last year after the Navy determined it would be too costly to repair or retrofit the 844-foot warship.


This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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