NewsTeam 10 Investigates


First court appearance for sailor accused of setting Navy warship on fire

Ryan Mays
Posted at 6:20 PM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 21:53:17-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - On Monday, a preliminary hearing began at Naval Base San Diego for the Navy sailor who's accused of starting the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard warship.

ABC 10News first broke the story about the arson investigation in August of 2020.

Early Monday, ABC 10News' cameras captured video of seaman Ryan Mays and his defense team as they were walking into the courthouse on-base.

The 20-year-old from Kentucky is accused of setting the warship on fire in the summer of 2020, which injured at least 70 people and took four days to knock down.


Cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom where the first half of Monday’s hearing was taken up by the prosecution’s questioning of an ATF special agent who explained the fire science that he used to determine that the fire started in what’s known as the lower “V” storage area and was caused by an open flame to tri-walls.

The second half of the day involved cross examination by the defense, who had the agent confirm that while DNA and fingerprint evidence was collected from bottles near the origin of the fire, none matched with Ryan Mays. The agent acknowledged that there were cameras installed after the fire when concerns were raised about evidence tampering, but none of the videos showed Mays doing anything wrong.

The agent also explained that a lighter was found in the sailor's belongings, but it couldn't be linked to the fire and it's possible that countless sailors on the ship also had lighters.

He also confirmed that cut hoses were discovered during investigation, but further review revealed that contractors were known to cut hoses to resell the brass nozzles.

This August, unsealed documents revealed possible sabotage of the firefighting efforts and tampering of evidence. Those documents describe Mays as a SEAL-drop out who hates the Navy. Some of the sailors who worked with Mays reportedly described him as, "A person who showed disdain towards authority and the U.S. Navy.”

The documents also reported that a former lover said that he lied about their relationship and described him as volatile and bipolar.

This October, a separate Navy report concluded that there were sweeping failures by both crew and command, calling the massive fire preventable and unacceptable. The findings detailed widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.

Mays is charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel.

The hearing will continue into Tuesday and possibly Wednesday. The hearing will determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.