Engineer: Navy warship fire might be electrical, not arson

Dec 14, 2021, 7:11 AM | Updated: Dec 15, 2021, 9:00 pm
CORRECTS RANK TO SEAMAN INSTEAD OF SEAMAN APPRENTICE - Navy Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays arrives for a h...

CORRECTS RANK TO SEAMAN INSTEAD OF SEAMAN APPRENTICE - Navy Seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays arrives for a hearing at Naval Base San Diego, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in San Diego. The Navy is set to hold a hearing to review whether there is enough evidence to order a court martial for a San Diego-based sailor charged with setting the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard in the summer of 2020. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — An electrical engineer who examined the USS Bonhomme Richard after it was destroyed by fire last year testified Wednesday that it might have started with a faulty cable, while a former federal fire investigator said he also found no data to back the government’s finding that it was arson.

Andrew Thoresen was hired by the defense attorneys representing the junior sailor accused of setting the fire aboard the amphibious assault ship. He told a military court during a preliminary hearing that he found highly combustible lithium ion batteries with their caps blown off and a copper cable with a melted end in the engine of a forklift, indicating it may have sparked the fire.

“They cannot be eliminated” as a source of the fire, said Thoresen, who has examined 3,000 fire scenes as a forensic electrical engineer.

Phil Fouts, a former federal fire investigator also hired by defense attorneys, told the court he agreed after inspecting the ship.

“For me the cause of the fire is undetermined at this point,” said Fouts, a former fire investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, adding later: “I have not eliminated the forklift and batteries (as potential causes) and I don’t have any data to support an intentionally set fire.”

Both the batteries and forklift were inside the lower vehicle storage area of the warship where the lead federal fire investigator for the government determined the July 12, 2020, fire was started by someone who ignited carboard boxes stored there.

The testimony came in a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for Ryan Sawyer Mays to face a military trial.

Mays is charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. The Navy judge, who listened to three days of testimonies, will be reviewing thousands of pages of material and hours of video. A decision is not expected for weeks.

Mays, 20, has denied igniting the blaze that burned for nearly five days on the USS Bonhomme Richard, injuring dozens of personnel aboard and sending acrid smoke wafting over San Diego. The ship was damaged so badly that it had to be scuttled. The blaze was one of the worst noncombat warship disasters in recent memory.

Prosecutors disputed that the government’s investigation overlooked other causes. They said Fouts inspected the charred vessel four months after the fire and spent only 15 hours on board compared to the government’s team of 10 certified fire investigators who spent days aboard the ship shortly after the blaze was extinguished.

Fouts acknowledged he did not closely examine the forklift and based his conclusion on the engineer’s report. The engineer also inspected the ship months after the fire.

Defense attorneys have argued there is no physical evidence tying Mays to the crime. Much of the case relies on sailors’ accounts of that morning.

One sailor, Edwin Kongo, testified Wednesday that he thanked Mays for saving his life after he alerted him there was a fire on board. Kongo said he had woken up minutes before Mays told him to get off the ship.

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the fire started on the 840-foot (256-meter) vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing a two-year, $250 million upgrade.

A key witness for the Navy testified Tuesday that he is certain he saw Mays in the area where the flames ignited and another sailor said the suspect mumbled “I’m guilty” on the way to the brig after being taken into custody.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenji Velasco said Mays was wearing blue work coveralls; other sailors said they saw him in a green camouflage uniform that day.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Betz testified Wednesday that Velasco initially told him he did not recognize the person he saw go down below before the fire. But Betz told the court he considered Velasco to be “really” truthful and found Mays would lie.

Betz said Mays told him he had to drop out of SEAL training because he got injured during the program’s “Hell Week,” which is the most grueling part that comes at the end of the weeks-long training. Mays actually dropped out voluntarily after five days.

One thing that the sailors have been consistent about in their testimonies is that Mays was not liked by many on the ship and did not want to be there.

Betz told investigators Mays was “selfish, whiney and mad because he dropped out of the SEALs.”

Navy prosecutors have argued Mays set the ship on fire because he was angry about being assigned to the ship.

On Tuesday Carissa Tubman, a sailor who was assigned to escorting Mays to the brig on Aug. 20, 2020, testified that she heard a stunned Mays mumble to himself: “I’m guilty, I guess. I did it.” Then she said he mumbled some more before she heard him say: “It had to be done.”

Defense attorneys said he was joking and speaking sarcastically after being surprised that he was being locked up.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - King Charles III salutes as he leaves Westminster Abbey following the state funeral service ...
Associated Press

King Charles III to host South African leader in state visit

LONDON (AP) — King Charles III will welcome South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the U.K. for three days of high-level talks next month, celebrating the first state visit of his reign with the leader of a Commonwealth member with close ties to the royal family. Ramaphosa has accepted Charles’s invitation for a state visit […]
16 hours ago
FILE - El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele participates in the closing ceremony of a congress for ...
Associated Press

In El Salvador, army surrounds town to root out gang

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — More than 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded and closed off a town in El Salvador Sunday in order to search for street gang members accused in a killing. The large-scale encirclement of the town of Comasagua is the latest example of heavy-handed tactics by the government to root out […]
16 hours ago
FILE - A boy diagnosed with cholera receives treatment at a cholera center in Anse D'Hainault, Hait...
Associated Press

Haiti reports cholera deaths for first time in 3 years

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s government on Sunday announced that at least eight people have died from cholera, raising concerns about a potentially fast-spreading scenario and reviving memories of an epidemic that killed nearly 10,000 people a decade ago. The cases – the first cholera deaths reported in three years – came in a community […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Madame Wu, restaurateur to Hollywood’s elite, dies at 106

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sylvia Wu, whose famed Southern California restaurant drew Hollywood’s biggest stars for four decades, has died at age 106, according to a news report. Madame Wu’s Garden on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica became a dining destination shortly after it opened in 1959, popular for its cuisine and pagoda-style decor featuring […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

3 die when plane hits Minnesota home, but 2 in house unhurt

HERMANTOWN, Minn. (AP) — Three people aboard a small airplane died when it crashed into a house near a northern Minnesota airport, but the two people sleeping inside the home — and their cat — were unhurt. Hermantown Police said the Cessna 172 plane crashed into the second floor of the home just south of […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Fire damages Mark Wahlberg’s childhood home in Boston

BOSTON (AP) — A home where entertainers Mark and Donnie Wahlberg’s family once lived was damaged by fire Sunday in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, the fire department said. The blaze in a nearby home at around 10 a.m., but spread to another three buildings because of strong winds, Fire Commissioner Paul Burke said. Two firefighters suffered […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Engineer: Navy warship fire might be electrical, not arson