Sailor accused of starting fire that destroyed US Navy ship is found not guilty

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A sailor accused of starting a fire that destroyed a US Navy battleship while docked in the California city of San Diego has been found not guilty.

Sailor recruit Ryan Mays was acquitted of intentionally risking a vessel and aggravated arson, the Navy said in a statement, after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence that Mays started the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard more than two years.

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After the judge delivered the verdict, Mays collapsed on the table and cried, said her defense attorney Gary Barthel, “feeling as if a 450-kilogram weight had been lifted off her shoulders.”

Outside the courtroom, Mays said he was “grateful that this is finally over” and called them “the hardest two years of my entire life”.

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“I wasted time with friends. I lost friends. I wasted time with my family and my entire career in the Navy was ruined,” Mays said. “I’m looking forward to starting over,” he added.

A Navy spokesman, Sean Robertson of the US 3rd Fleet, told CNN in a statement: “Mays was found not guilty on charges of intentional risk of a vessel and aggravated arson. The Navy is committed to upholding the principles of due process and a fair trial.”

The fire aboard the amphibious assault ship lasted four days before it was finally extinguished, destroying the ship and forcing the Navy to scrap the billion-dollar vessel. The USS Bonhomme Richard was in port for upgrades to allow it to accommodate Marine Corps F-35B fighter jets when the fire broke out.

A year after the fire, the Navy accused Mays of being responsible. Mays was a member of the ship’s crew at the time.

But Mays’s defense attorney said the evidence was never strong and that the judge recommended at the preliminary hearing that the case not go ahead.

“My opinion of this case from the beginning was that it was a weak case,” Barthel said.

A Navy investigation released last October found the fire was “clearly preventable” and was the result of a series of systematic failures.

The cascade of errors and malfunctions involved 36 Navy personnel, according to the investigation, including the commander of the USS Bonhomme Richard and five admirals, who were unable to maintain the ship, ensure adequate training, provide shore support or carry out adequate oversight.

Even before the fire, the ship’s condition was “significantly degraded”, the investigation found, including firefighting equipment, heat detection capability and communications equipment, allowing the flames to spread more quickly.

Meanwhile, the ship’s crew failed firefighting drills, including a repeated inability to apply firefighting chemicals during drills on 14 consecutive occasions leading up to the fire.

In July, the Navy announced that it would punish more than 20 sailors for the fire. The most serious actions focused on the battleship leadership and fire response team.

The ship’s former commander, Captain Gregory Scott Thoroman, and former executive officer, Captain Michael Ray, received punitive letters of reprimand and loss of pay. Former head of command, José Hernandez, received a punitive letter of reprimand.

Source: CNN Brasil

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