Hearing for sailor charged in Bonhomme Richard ship fire again delayed

Fire sweeps the Bonhomme Richard as it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/U.S. Navy/TNS)

A preliminary hearing for the sailor charged with starting a fire that destroyed a $1 billion Navy warship in San Diego last year has been postponed until December, the Navy said Monday. It is the second time the military hearing, originally scheduled for October then pushed to November, has been delayed.

Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays, 20 was charged with aggravated arson and hazarding a vessel in connection with the July 2020 blaze on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard. Court documents suggest Mays was identified by other sailors on board as being in the vicinity of the ship’s lower vehicle storage area, where Navy investigators say the fire started.

The hearing, called an “Article 32,” functions as a type of grand jury in the military, although evidence is weighed by a single hearing officer as opposed to the group of people serving on civilian grand juries. The hearing officer will then make recommendations to a Navy admiral, in this case commander of the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet, whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial.

While one junior sailor is charged with starting the blaze, two recent Navy investigations list a series of leadership and training failures on the San Diego waterfront as contributing to the ship’s vulnerability to fire at the time. Thirty-six Navy leaders and civilian Navy officials were found by the service to bear some culpability in the fire.

A Pacific Fleet-led consolidated disposition authority is evaluating those officials and will dole out whatever punishments — if any — that are warranted, Navy leaders have said.

Mays’ hearing is tentatively scheduled for the week of Dec. 13, although no specific date has been set, said Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a 3rd Fleet spokesperson.


© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC