Trial to Begin for Sailor Accused of Igniting Navy Warship

SAN DIEGO — In response to prosecutors, Ryan Sawyer Mays was a younger, conceited sailor indignant about being assigned to deck responsibility after failing to grow to be a Navy SEAL — and he made the Navy pay in an enormous means.

However the prosecution has introduced no bodily proof proving that Mays, 21, set the USS Bonhomme Richard on fireplace, a truth protection legal professionals plan to focus on on the sailor’s courtroom martial that’s scheduled to start out 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 really helpful the case not go to courtroom 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 courtroom 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 resembling cardboard bins, in violation of ship protocol.

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

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

The prosecution’s witness, Petty Officer third Class Kenji Velasco, blamed his nervousness for the adjustments to his story and mentioned through the preliminary listening to that he was now “100%” certain that he noticed Mays descend to the ship’s decrease automobile storage space on the day of the fireplace.

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

Barthel believes the Navy is utilizing Mays as a scapegoat fairly 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 unsuitable man.

Whereas investigators mentioned Mays set the fireplace, a Navy report final yr concluded that the inferno was preventable and unacceptable, and that there have been lapses in coaching, coordination, communications, fireplace preparedness, gear upkeep and total 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 tasks and instantly faulted the ship’s three high officers.

The ship was present process a two-year, $250 million improve pierside in San Diego when the fireplace 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 include the fireplace led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 levels Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten steel that flowed into different components 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 reduce out for it.

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

The courtroom martial is scheduled to final two weeks.

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