The Mercury News

Sailor charged in ship fire was Navy SEAL dropout

- By Julie Watson

SAN DIEGO >> The sailor charged with starting a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard last year was assigned to the ship after dropping out of training to become a Navy SEAL, and he was described by some fellow sailors as a person who had disdain for the Navy, according to investigat­ors.

Details of 20-year-old Ryan Mays and the early investigat­ion into the worst U.S. warship fire in recent memory were revealed in a search warrant unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

The Navy confirmed that Mays was the sailor charged Thursday with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel.

His lawyer, Gary Barthel, said he had not seen the search warrant yet and could not comment on what it said until he had the chance to review it.

“Ryan has maintained his innocence throughout this entire investigat­ion,” he said.

The fire started July 12, 2020, in the lower storage area, which Mays’ duty station had access to, according to the court document.

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames sent up a huge plume of dark smoke from the 840-foot vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade.

The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days. Left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage, the ship was later scrapped. Estimates to replace it ran up to $4 billion.

Officials investigat­ing the ship’s damage found three of four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering: Fire hoses were disconnect­ed and one was cut.

They also found uncapped bottles containing small amounts of highly flammable liquid near the ignition site, including one that tested positive for a heavy petroleum distillate such as diesel, kerosene or jet fuel, according to the court document.

Mays joined the Navy in 2019 and started the grueling training to become a Navy SEAL in October of that year. But he dropped out five days after starting training in Coronado. He was reassigned as a seaman and put on the crew oftheship.

Mays was arrested after a 10-hour interview with investigat­ors.

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