NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Day 3 of arson suspect hearing, expert suggests electrical failure in warship fire

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Fire
Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 11:25:48-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Wednesday marked the third day in court for the 20-year-old sailor who's accused of setting the USS Bonhomme Richard warship on fire during the summer of 2020, which injured at least 70 people.

ABC 10News' cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom at Naval Base San Diego for seaman Ryan Mays' preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there's enough evidence for the case to move to trial.

On Wednesday, the defense called up a forensic engineer who showed photos from after the fire, including images of wiring damage called arcing. He also showed images of damaged lithium ion batteries. He said that both the wiring and the batteries could not be eliminated as causes of the fire.

The batteries, he added, are found in everything from e-bikes to power tools, and are known to be one of the most common products to spark fires.

Two fellow sailors testified. One said that when the fire broke out, he remembered seeing not just Mays, but also an African American man who he never saw again. Another sailor described talking to fellow sailors a few days after the fire, one of whom stated that he saw someone in coveralls with a mask and a bucket going into the lower "V" storage area before the fire, which is where agents believe that the fire started. The sailor who testified also added that he thought the person being described could be Mays since Mays also wore coveralls.

Late in the day, an arson expert from the defense reported that his findings differed from those of federal agents. He said that the cause of the fire is still undetermined and it cannot be concluded that it was incendiary.

This August, unsealed documents revealed possible sabotage of the firefighting efforts and tampering of evidence. A separate Navy report concluded that there were sweeping failures by both crew and command, calling the fire preventable and unacceptable.

The hearing is still in session. This story will be updated.