He claims he didn’t do it but a 21-year-old sailor has been accused of torching the billion dollar Bonhomme Richard. Allegedly, because he was angry about pulling deck duty. That was the last straw after he was turned down for a slot with the SEALs and learned someone else knocked up his girlfriend. He may deny it now but prosecutors say he was “overheard admitting the crime.”
Sailor with a grudge
According to NAVY prosecutors, all it takes to sink a battleship is one disgruntled sailor. The USS Bonhomme Richard was destroyed in a $1.2 billion dollar blaze.
Ryan Sawyer Mays was charged with starting the fire on July 12, 2020, while the ship was in dock. The blaze “burned for almost five days.” Prosecutors argue the arson was prompted by “being assigned to deck duty when he failed to become a Navy Seal.”
Acrid smoke billowing from the out of control inferno distressed the nearby town of San Diego and the ship was so badly damaged that the Navy scuttled it. Of 115 sailors aboard, “60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries.”
Because the sailor started a blaze impossible to even contain, much less extinguish, “temperatures climbed to 1,200 F in some areas, which melted sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.”
Mays wanted the Navy to pay big for their mistake and they did. Prosecutors note that when they describe him as “an arrogant sailor angry about being assigned to deck duty after failing to become a Navy SEAL — and he made the Navy pay in a big way.” More than a billion.
In opening statements at his trial, Commander Leah O’Brien told the judge “it was a mischievous act of defiance gone wrong.” The Navy had over half a dozen former crew members of the USS Bonhomme Richard testify on the first day of proceedings.
Harrowing and chaotic
Witnesses described the “harrowing and chaotic scene as they confronted an inferno.” The thing that they were most passionate about is the fact the Navy warship had such “shoddy equipment.” Compounding all the smoke, “many did not know what the situation was.”
One sailor, Petty Officer Jeffrey Garvin, who served as the ship’s fire marshal, broke down when asked to recall his actions that day. It boils down to “he wishes he knew.” Becoming emotional on the stand, Garvin testified “I’m still trying to work through this in therapy myself. I apologize.”
After regaining his composure, Garvin added that “he could not remember a lot from the day.” Prosecutors are challenged by that same issue with a number of key witnesses.
The sabotaging sailor is accused of intentionally sparking a fire in the lower vehicle storage area, “filled with bottles, tools, generators, tractors and other equipment while the ship was undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade pier-side in San Diego.”
It took 400 sailors from 16 vessels and a number of helicopters dumping water from above to put out the blaze started by one sailor. “At least 63 people were injured, including 18 firefighters who filed workers’ compensation for suffering concussions, orthopedic issues, dehydration and smoke inhalation.”
Senior officers will be listing their careers as part of the casualties. “More than 20 senior officers and sailors were disciplined by navy leaders in connection with what it described as ‘widespread leadership failures‘ that contributed to the disaster.”
**Ryan Sawyer Mays has since been acquitted of all charges in September 2022**