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Defense: USS Bonhomme Richard fire could have been accidental

Experts testify fire could have been started by arcing wire or exploding battery.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The defense presented its case Wednesday on the last day of the preliminary hearing for the sailor accused of setting fire to the USS Bonhomme Richard.

Defense attorneys called experts to testify that the fire could have been started accidentally, in contrast to findings by ATF investigators.

Seaman Ryan Mays is accused of aggravated arson in the July 12, 2020 fire that destroyed the $1.4 billion Navy war ship. The Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing, will determine whether Mays will face court martial.

A forensic electrical engineer, Andrew Thoresen of Oceanside, testified the fire could have been started by an arcing wire or an exploding lithium-ion battery.

Thoresen spent four hours onboard the burned-out ship a year ago.

He saw evidence that a battery cable on a forklift near the point of fire origin had arced and sparked, melting copper on the cable. Thoresen also found several lithium-ion batteries in the lower V area of the ship, which are known to explode and cause fires, he testified.

ATF investigators ruled out those sources as causes of the fire, concluding the fire was arson, possibly started with diesel fuel or paint thinner.

Prosecutors allege Mays set the fire because he was disgruntled after dropping out of navy seal training.

Earlier in the day, a fellow sailor testified that the defendant saved his life shortly after the fire started, by barging into his sleeping area and urgently telling him to get out of the burning ship.

That sailor, Seaman Edwin Kongo, also testified that Mays was wearing a green camouflage uniform, different from the blue coveralls a previous witness had identified the suspected arsonist as wearing.

The judge will now review even more evidence and view videotaped interviews before writing up a recommendation to her command.  

Ultimately, a vice admiral will make the final decision on whether there is probably cause to refer Mays to court martial.

WATCH RELATED: Key witness takes stand in USS Bonhomme Richard arson case (December 2021)

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