Trial to start for sailor accused of setting Navy warship on fire

The trial of Ryan Sawyer May, a sailor accused of setting the USS Bonhomme Richard on fire in July 2020, is set to get underway.

SAN DIEGO — According to prosecutors, Ryan Sawyer Mays was a young, 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.

But the prosecution has presented no physical evidence proving that Mays, 21, set the USS Bonhomme Richard on fire, a fact defense lawyers plan to highlight at the sailor’s court martial that is scheduled to start Monday at Naval Base San Diego.

The July 2020 blaze burned for nearly five days and sent an acrid smoke over San Diego, damaging the amphibious assault ship so badly that it had to be scuttled. It marked one of the worst noncombat warship disasters in recent memory.

U.S. Navy sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays walks past reporters at Naval Base San Diego before entering a Navy courtroom on Aug. 17, 2022, in San Diego.Julie Watson / AP fileMays is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Gary Barthel, a civilian lawyer who represented Mays at a preliminary hearing to determine if there was probable cause to send the case to trial, said the Navy judge overseeing that process recommended the case not go to court martial. But Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the former commander of the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet, who had the final say, ordered the court martial.

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