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Sailor accused in fire that ravaged the USS Bonhomme Richard appears in court

Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays is charged with setting the July 2020, fire, which burned for several days while the ship was docked at Naval Base San Diego.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A sailor accused of setting last year's fire that ravaged the USS Bonhomme Richard appeared in a Naval Base San Diego courtroom Monday for a hearing that will determine whether he may go to trial.

Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays is charged with setting the July 2020, fire, which burned for several days while the ship was docked at Naval Base San Diego. Mays appeared for an Article 32 hearing, which is akin to a preliminary hearing in civilian courts.

In August, News 8 obtained a federal search warrant on the matter. The search warrant suggests the ship’s firefighting equipment was sabotaged before the fire broke out in July 2020.

In the search warrant, NCIS Investigators focused on sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays.

The details inside the warrant paint a picture as to how Mays was eventually identified and charged with starting the fire. The warrant describes Mays as hating the Navy, he was a failed SEAL and was also going through a breakup at the time.  Claims his defense attorney disputes.

"He's always been proud to have served in the Navy. People going through that program to be a SEAL, it's got a high high attrition rate and people drop out all the time," said Mays' attorney, Gary Barthel.

Originally, the warrant was written to search Mays’ email and other internet accounts.

The warrant says Mays was identified by a fellow sailor after more than 170 of them were interviewed after the fire. That sailor told investigators he was 90 percent sure it was Mays who was seen carrying a metal bucket in the Lower V area of the ship before the fire broke out.

"It sounds to me like there may be some hesitancy on the sailor's part who claims that he saw my client. During COVID, the crew was all required to wear masks," said Barthel.

In a questionnaire given to all the sailors, Mays was the only one who described a "burning fuel/rubbery smell," according to the warrant.

During a search of the scene, investigators found bottles and cans near where the fire started. One of them may have contained a fluid similar to diesel, kerosene and jet fuel.

Mays was interviewed extensively a number of times and was eventually arrested and confined at MCAS Miramar.  While in the brig, two Master-At-Arms designated sailors claim to have heard Mays say that, “he was guilty,” while seemingly talking to himself.

"[Mays] denies making any admissions to anybody and he's always denied any involvement in the fire onboard the Bonhomme Richard," Barthel said.

The warrant also details how investigators believe the fire was started and how the suspect may have prevented firefighting efforts and how he may have tampered with evidence.

A Navy report has concluded there were sweeping failures by commanders, crew members and others that fueled the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, called the massive five-day blaze preventable and unacceptable. 

WATCH RELATED: Navy to decommission USS Bonhomme Richard (Nov 30, 2020)


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