Sailor acquitted of setting fire that destroyed massive ship - Albuquerque Journal

Sailor acquitted of setting fire that destroyed massive ship

SAN DIEGO — A military judge on Friday acquitted a sailor of arson in a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, a blow to the Navy as it faces allegations of improper training and maintenance of the $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship.

Ryan Sawyer Mays, 21, deeply exhaled when the verdict was read, put both hands on the defense table, broke into sobs and hugged supporters in the audience at Naval Base San Diego.

Outside the courtroom building, Mays read a brief statement to reporters and declined to answer questions. He did not address his plans.

“I can say that the past two years have been the hardest two years of my entire life as a young man,” he said. “I’ve lost time with friends. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost time with family, and my entire Navy career was ruined. I am looking forward to starting over.”

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence during the nine-day trial that the sailor set the ship on fire, while the defense chipped away at the credibility of a key witness, Seaman Kenji Velasco, who changed his account over time.

Gary Barthel, a former Marine judge advocate who represented Mays at a preliminary hearing, said undercutting Velasco’s credibility was key. Barthel has said the judge in the preliminary hearing recommended against a court martial, but Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, former commander of the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet, had the final say.

The ship’s lower vehicle storage area “became a junkyard and I believe throughout this entire process the Navy was attempting to clean up their mess by accusing Seaman Mays of these allegations,” Barthel told reporters.

Prosecutors did not comment after the verdict. The Navy said through a spokesman, Lt. Samuel R. Boyle, that it “is committed to upholding the principles of due process and a fair trial.”

Prosecutors said Mays was angry and vengeful about failing to become a Navy SEAL and being assigned to deck duty, prompting him to ignite cardboard boxes on July 12, 2020 in the lower vehicle storage area on the vessel, which was docked in San Diego while undergoing $250 million in maintenance work. They said he wanted to drive home his text earlier to his division officer that the ship was so cluttered with contractors’ material it was “hazardous as (expletive).”

The prosecutor, Capt. Jason Jones, acknowledged in court a Navy report last year that concluded that the inferno was preventable and unacceptable, and that there were lapses in training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control. The failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees (649 Celsius) in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship. Navy leaders disciplined more than 20 senior officers and sailors.

Jones told the judge there is no doubt the Navy “loses the ship” that morning, but Mays is to blame for igniting it.

“That sucker punch from behind, that’s what the Navy could have never prevented,” he said.

Mays thought he would be jumping out of helicopters on missions with the SEALs, but instead he was chipping paint on the deck of a ship, and he hated the Navy for that, Jones said.

“When on deck, you are about as far away from the SEALs as you are ever going to be,” Jones said.

Defense lawyers said the trial only exposed a shoddy probe by government investigators who rushed to judgment and failed to collect evidence showing that the culprit also could have been lithium ion batteries or a sparking forklift.

Home » News » Nation » Sailor acquitted of setting fire that destroyed massive ship


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
A family fight the day after Thanksgiving and a ...
ABQnews Seeker
Officials say the man shot by ... Officials say the man shot by officers was armed with knives
2
Former Catron County sheriff faces 10 felony charges
ABQnews Seeker
A former New Mexico sheriff was ... A former New Mexico sheriff was charged Thursday with embezzlement and money laundering for allegedly taking $39,000 in federal funds intended to reimburse Catron ...
3
Microwave technology is getting closer to the battlefield. This ...
ABQnews Seeker
Air Force lab accelerates development of ... Air Force lab accelerates development of ‘directed energy’ systems
4
The state Public Education Department revealed a $4.3 billion ...
ABQnews Seeker
PED's proposed budget is a 9% ... PED's proposed budget is a 9% increase for next year
5
NMSU benches 3 basketball players involved in aftermath of ...
ABQnews Seeker
The three were seen in video ... The three were seen in video footage moments after the fatal shooting
6
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is planning to open ...
ABQnews Seeker
Indigenous cultural education will be part ... Indigenous cultural education will be part of program at the new center
7
New Mexico offers many options to hit the cross ...
From the newspaper
Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area ... Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area set among 600 acres of the Carson National Forest has nearly 19 miles of trails and another 11 ...
8
Over 100 NM artists and crafts people to be ...
ABQnews Seeker
More than 100 fine artists and ... More than 100 fine artists and crafts people from across New Mexico will converge on Santa Fe Commun ...
9
Suit alleges development cut Dillard's profits at Winrock Town ...
ABQnews Seeker
Winrock Town Center changes spark lawsuit Winrock Town Center changes spark lawsuit
10
Shaiquel McGruder's monster performance, strong finish leads UNM women ...
College
On a rainy Wednesday night with ... On a rainy Wednesday night with a late-arriving crowd, the UNM women's basketball team seemed to need a litte wakeup call in the Pit. ...