NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Navy confirms arson investigation into USS Bonhomme Richard fire

Navy brings charges against sailor for starting fire
USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Fire
Posted at 2:32 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 14:08:02-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Navy officials confirmed Thursday that a criminal investigation is being conducted into the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in July 2020.

In a statement, the Navy said the sailor being investigated was a member of the ship's crew and is accused of starting the fire on July 12, 2020. The Navy said charges were brought forth on Thursday, "in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation."

ABC 10News Team 10 Investigator Jennifer Kastner broke the news of the arson investigation in August 2020.

ABC News reported Friday that the accused sailor, a seaman apprentice, is being charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel under articles 126 and 110 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to 3rd Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson.

The fire erupted that morning at Naval Base San Diego, sending thick smoke into the air over the course of four days until the fire would be put out. More than 60 people, including sailors and firefighters, were treated for injuries such as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation as a result of the fire.

In a statement, the Navy said:

"On July 29, charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice were brought forth against a Navy Sailor in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation into the fire started on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on July 12, 2020. Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system. The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet is considering court-martial charges and has directed a preliminary hearing at which an impartial hearing officer will make determinations and recommendations required by the UCMJ prior to any further trial proceedings – including whether or not there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and to offer a recommendation as to the disposition of the case."

Since the fire, the USS Bonhomme Richard has been decommissioned and transported to a scrapyard in Texas. Because of the damage to the ship, the Navy said it would not be cost-effective to restore the vessel. It would've taken an estimated $3 billion to restore the ship and require up to seven years of work.

The USS Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1998.