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Trial By Fire: Is This Low-Ranking Sailor The Scapegoat For Navy's Billion-Dollar USS Bonhomme Blunder

Sean M. Haffey. Getty Images.


On today's ZeroBlog30 we broke down an in-depth report just released by ProPublica on the July 2020 USS Bonhomme Richard fire, and it raises serious questions about the Navy's arson case against a young, lower-enlisted sailor as the trial continues into its second week. We break down every crazy detail starting at 21:23 on today's episode. 



For a quick refresher, the Bonhomme Richard caught fire in San Diego harbor where it was undergoing a $249 million mega renovation. The ship burned for 5 days, and when inspectors were finally able to see the damage up close they determined it was cheaper to scrap the $1.2B ship than fix it. A total loss and huge embarrassment for the Navy. 

Following two separate investigations, they charged Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays (who was 20 at the time of the fire) with arson. The problem, though, is that one of those investigations completely refutes the other, and even a judge who went through both with a fine tooth comb recommended NOT putting Mays on trial and said there wasn't even enough evidence to say it was arson at all. And yet, he's on trial this week facing life in prison:



Here's the 2 parallel investigations that took place: 

The Command Investigation focused on failures within the ship & its leadership, which essentially made it a ticking time bomb for an accidental/negligence-related fire. OSHA would have had a field day going through the this investigation's list… They found that barely any of the fire stations & extinguishers were working, the sprinkler/fire foam system had falsely been marked as functional when it was actually broken, the crew failed 14 fire drills in a row leading up to the fire, welders were working below deck sending sparks where oil drums, fuel, rags, lumber, boxes, etc. were haphazardly strewn all over… the examples highlighting violations & major incompetence by leadership went on & on. They also had multiple, solid possibilities for how it started without arson.

The NCIS/ATF Investigation went looking to see if any one person had reason to start a fire, thinking it had to be an arsonist despite the other investigation making it clear the whole place was a floating tinder box. They honed in on a sailor known to be disgruntled and didn't let up now matter how much evidence to the contrary came to light.

This a short version but the details are genuinely insane & as the trial unfolds even more info is coming out that points to Mays' innocence. The evidence is so clear, and is being so clearly disregarded by the Navy that it's maddening to me that he has to go through this. Hoping by the time this trial is done justice is served & he's freed. To me this is on the officers who let their ship fall into disarray, leading to a catastrophic accident.