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Junior sailor charged in USS Bonhomme Richard fire to appear in court

Junior sailor charged in USS Bonhomme Richard fire to appear in court
Sailors and firefighters combat the fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020. File Photo by MC3 Christina Ross/U.S. Navy/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 13 (UPI) -- A seaman apprentice charged with deliberately setting a fire last year that gutted the former USS Bonhomme Richard and endangered others at Naval Base San Diego is set to appear in court this week.

The Navy charged Seaman Apprentice Ryan S. Mays, 20, with willful hazarding of a vessel "by setting a fire aboard the vessel" on July 12, 2020, according to a copy of the charge sheet released by U.S. 3rd Fleet officials to U.S. Naval Institute News and Task and Purpose.

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He has also been charged with aggravated arson for allegedly "willfully and maliciously" setting the ship on fire, "knowing that a human being was therein at the time," the charge sheet shows.

Mays is slated to appear in military courtroom Monday for the hearing at Naval Base San Diego courthouse, just blocks away from the site of the fire at Pier 2. The hearing is expected to last two to three days.

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Mays denies any involvement with starting the fire, his military lawyer Gary Barthel told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The preliminary hearing officer will make a recommendation to Vice Admiral Stephen Koehler, the U.S. 3rd Fleet commander, who ordered the hearing, as to whether the charges against Mays should be sent to a court-martial, handled administratively or dismissed after hearing the testimony and collecting evidence.

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If Mays is court-martialed and found guilty of willful hazarding of the vessel, he could face punishment up to "death or such punishment as a court-martial may direct."

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If found guilty of aggravated arson, he could face up to 20 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

The amphibious assault ship burned for nearly five days in the San Diego port before it was extinguished and resulted in 63 people -- 40 sailors and 23 civilians -- being treated for minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

The ship was completing a nearly two-year, $249 million maintenance overhaul when the fire broke out, according to USNI News.

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An investigative report that the Navy released a couple months ago found that sailors were not adequately prepared to combat the blaze.

The Navy made the decision to scrap and decommission the ship.

It had considered rebuilding and restoring the ship, which transported U.S. Marines for amphibious maneuvers, but that would have cost between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion and taken five to seven years, Rear Admiral Eric Ver Hage, the commander of Navy Regional Maintenance Center previously told reporters in a phone call.

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