Sailor Charged in Bonhomme Richard Fire Will Head to Trial in September

The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) sits pier side at Naval Base San Diego.
The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) sits pier side at Naval Base San Diego, July 16, 2020. (Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/U.S. Navy photo)

Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays, the man the Navy alleges is responsible for one of the Navy's biggest peacetime disasters, will be tried in September, the Navy confirmed Thursday.

Mays faces charges of "willful hazarding of a vessel" and "aggravated arson" after his fellow sailors testified that they saw him in the area of the USS Bonhomme Richard where the fire started on July 12, 2020.

Lt. Sam Boyle, a spokesman for the Navy's Third Fleet, said that the trial is currently scheduled to run from Sept. 19 to Sept. 30, 2022.

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Mays was charged with starting the fire in July 2021, just over a year after the days-long fire ravaged the Bonhomme Richard, which was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade in San Diego.

    Court records from that time showed that the service saw Mays as a disgruntled sailor, assigned to the Bonhomme Richard after dropping out of Navy SEAL training. The ship's command master chief "identified Mays as a person who showed disdain towards authority and the U.S. Navy," court records say.

    In mid-December of 2021, Mays had his preliminary hearing. Then, in February the Navy's commander of Third Fleet, Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, sent the case to a trial, contrary to the recommendation of his subordinate who oversaw that first hearing.

    Mays has maintained his innocence since the charges were first announced. Mays' lawyer, Gary Barthel, previously told that their position is "that the Navy's not looking for justice, in this case."

    "What they're trying to do is make Mays a scapegoat for a billion-dollar ship that ended up burning as a result of other people's negligence," Barthel said, alluding to a Navy report that found major failures by commanders and crew that fueled the catastrophic blaze.

    That investigation named 36 people -- including several admirals -- as accountable in the massive fire. Among those people, 17 sailors were cited for failures that "directly" led to the loss of the ship, while others "contributed" to the loss. 

    Reforms put in place after those reports increased the responsibility and visibility of the Naval Safety Command, but Adm. Bill Lescher, the Navy's No. 2 officer, also put more responsibility on commanders "to speak with a strong and courageous voice about what they see." 

    Mays is not under confinement and is currently assigned to a squadron at Third Fleet. 

    The dismantling of the Bonhomme Richard began on April 15, 2021, after the Navy decided it would take at least five years and $2.5 billion to fix the ship.

    -- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin. 

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