Sailor Accused in Warship Fire Falsely Claimed 2 SEAL Hell Weeks, Investigator Says

September 21, 2022Tom Wyatt
BONHOMME Richard fire

The USS Bonhomme Richard burns in San Diego in July 2020. Ryan Sawyer Mays was formally charged in December 2021 with starting the fire on the warship. US Navy photo.

SAN DIEGO — A federal agent investigating the Bonhomme Richard fire testified Tuesday, Sept. 20, that the sailor accused of setting the blaze, Ryan Sawyer Mays, falsely claimed during a tour of the ship to have trained in two Navy SEAL Hell Weeks, the infamous training event that keeps would-be SEALs awake and training for five days.

In fact, Mays dropped out of SEAL training in the first week of the course, never reaching a Hell Week, according to the Navy. He was subsequently assigned to the Bonhomme Richard as it underwent repairs. There, he set a fire out of a sense of disgruntlement with his lowly job on board an inactive ship, prosecutors said.

Mays is facing a court-martial this week in San Diego. In testimony Tuesday, Special Agent Matthew Beals of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that, in the weeks after the fire, investigators had combed the ship for clues. They were with Mays on one visit to the ship, and he pointed out to them where he said he had been that night, Beals testified.

Bonhomme Richard

Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, is accused of arson in the July 12, 2020, fire that consumed the USS Bonhomme Richard. Photos from GoFundMe, US Navy. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

At one point, the group stood on the flight deck of the ship, taking in the view around San Diego bay, including the SEALs' training compound.

“What did Seaman Mays tell you on the ship?" Capt. Jason Jones, the Navy's lead prosecutor, asked Beals.

“[Mays] told me he went to Hell Week twice,” Beals replied.

“And what could you see from the flight deck when Mays asked this?” Jones followed up.

“The BUD/S O Course,” Beals said, referring to the obstacle course at the SEALs’ training center.

The exchange was an example of Mays lying to investigators, prosecutors said.

Head buds

SEAL candidates crawl through the mud during Hell Week. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt.

While the exchange with Beals was the prosecution's only attempt to establish a motive for Mays, prosecutors spent much of the rest of the day asking technical experts to explain how the fire started — and how it probably did not — on board the Bonhomme Richard in July 2020.

Prosecutors began by calling a Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, agent. Special Agent Garrett Radke created a 3D computer model of the ship's lower vehicle stowage area, or lower V, in early September 2020, allowing investigators to model the origin and spread of the fire.

After Radke, the remainder of the court’s day went to Beals, a certified fire investigator with the ATF. Beals said he believed the fire was caused by an open flame applied to an ignitable liquid on cardboard containers in the Lower V.

During cross-examination, Mays’ attorney Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres questioned Beals on whether he had discarded alternative causes too hastily, including the possibility that nearby lithium-ion batteries could have provided the initial spark. Beals described tests that investigators had run on the lithium-ion batteries found in the lower V, but he said that he ultimately discarded the possibility that the batteries could have caused the fire.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect ATF agent Matthew Beals' testimony that Ryan Sawyer Mays claimed to have trained in two Hell Weeks, but did not indicate in his testimony whether Mays claimed to have completed the training.

Read Next: Air Force ‘Flips,’ Says Special Ops, Recruiters, and Others Won’t Face Pay Cuts

Tom Wyatt
Tom Wyatt

Tom Wyatt was a SkillBridge intern for Coffee or Die. He is an active-duty Naval Special Warfare boat operator and a proud father living in San Diego, California. Tom is a budding reporter, looking to pursue journalism and fiction writing upon exiting the Navy.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

7 of the Best Movie Ambush Scenes of All Time

Ambushes make for great action scenes. Here are seven of the best to ever grace the big screen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his daughter, center right, reportedly named Ju Ae, review the honor guard during their visit to the navy headquarter in North Korea
North Korea Launches Missile Toward Sea After US Flies Bomber During Drills

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved