Trial to start for sailor accused of setting Navy warship on fire

todaySeptember 19, 2022

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SAN DIEGO — In line with prosecutors, Ryan Sawyer Mays was a younger, boastful sailor offended about being assigned to deck obligation after failing to turn out to be a Navy SEAL — and he made the Navy pay in a giant means.

However the prosecution has offered no bodily proof proving that Mays, 21, set the USS Bonhomme Richard on hearth, a reality protection legal professionals plan to focus on on the sailor’s court docket martial that’s scheduled to begin Monday at Naval Base San Diego.

The July 2020 blaze burned for almost 5 days and despatched an acrid smoke over San Diego, damaging the amphibious assault ship so badly that it needed to be scuttled. It marked one of many worst noncombat warship disasters in latest reminiscence.

Mays is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Gary Barthel, a civilian lawyer who represented Mays at a preliminary listening to to find out if there was possible trigger to ship the case to trial, mentioned the Navy decide overseeing that course of advisable the case not go to court docket martial. However Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the previous commander of the San Diego-based U.S. third Fleet, who had the ultimate say, ordered the court docket martial.

Barthel mentioned the Navy’s case depends largely on the account of a fellow sailor who has acknowledged altering it repeatedly. He mentioned investigators brushed apart the truth that lithium batteries have been saved subsequent to extremely flamable materials equivalent to cardboard containers, in violation of ship protocol.

Barthel mentioned he provided his providers professional bono as a result of he thought Mays wouldn’t be court docket martialed, however he doesn’t have time along with his full-time observe to proceed to symbolize the sailor, who’s utilizing navy counsel. Nonetheless, he mentioned he’s talking out as a result of the Navy case is unjust.

“I feel there’s some actual questions as as to if or not the hearth was an arson,” Barthel mentioned. “And if it have been deemed an arson, there are questions on whether or not Ryan Mays began this fireplace.”

The prosecution’s witness, Petty Officer third Class Kenji Velasco, blamed his nervousness for the adjustments to his story and mentioned throughout the preliminary listening to that he was now “one hundred pc” certain that he noticed Mays descend to the ship’s decrease car storage space on the day of the hearth.

Neither navy protection counsel nor the prosecution could possibly be reached for remark.

Barthel believes the Navy is utilizing Mays as a scapegoat reasonably than admit it was solely the mismanagement by senior officers that led to the lack of the billion-dollar vessel, or acknowledge that they pinned the blame on the fallacious man.

Whereas investigators mentioned Mays set the hearth, a Navy report final 12 months concluded that the inferno was preventable and unacceptable, and that there have been lapses in coaching, coordination, communications, hearth preparedness, gear upkeep and general command and management.

Navy leaders disciplined greater than 20 senior officers and sailors in reference to what it described as widespread management failures that contributed to the catastrophe. The Navy unfold blame throughout a variety of ranks and obligations and straight faulted the ship’s three prime officers.

The ship was present process a two-year, $250 million improve pierside in San Diego when the hearth broke out. About 115 sailors have been on board, and almost 60 have been handled for warmth exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor accidents. The failure to extinguish or comprise the hearth led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 levels Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten steel that flowed into different elements of the ship.

Retired Navy Capt. Lawrence B. Brennan, an adjunct professor at Admiralty and Worldwide Maritime Regulation Fordham Regulation Faculty, mentioned the prosecution has its work minimize out for it.

“There are questions on identification of the individuals within the neighborhood of the hearth and attainable causes aside from arson,” he mentioned in an electronic mail to The Related Press. “Furthermore, the conflagration and firefighting efforts broken, if not destroyed, the crime scene and essential proof.”

The court docket martial is scheduled to final two weeks.

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