Navy Seaman Ryan Mays has been released from the Bonhomme Richard fire

A military judge on Friday acquitted a junior sailor accused of destroying a $1.2 billion warship, a significant outcome for the Navy, which found widespread command failures contributed to the fire but sought to prosecute a low-ranking crew member.

Seaman enlisted man Ryan Sawyer Mays, 21, wept with relief as the verdict was read at the Associated Press at Naval Base San Diego. reported. He was charged with arson in the 2020 fire that reduced the USS Bonhomme Richard to a smoldering wreckage and faces the possibility of life in prison. The prosecution has not presented any physical evidence to support the claim of criminal mischief and a key witness changed His story over time, AP reported.

“I can say the last two years have been the hardest two years of my entire life as a young man,” Mays said outside the courtroom, according to the AP from a brief statement. “I’ve lost time with friends. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost time with family. My whole Navy career has been ruined. I’m looking forward to starting over.”

Naval report Last year The fire was found to be an “entirely preventable” disaster. The ship, which underwent a quarter-billion-dollar upgrade at a shipyard in San Diego, was “particularly vulnerable” to fire because its compartments were decorated with flammable materials and the crew was ill-equipped to fight an inferno, investigators determined. Of the 807 fire extinguishers on board, 15 worked. Two responding teams tried to find a working hose at one of the ship’s 216 fire stations but were unsuccessful, the report found. Only 29 of them are serviceable.

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Capt. Jason Jones, the prosecutor, tried to block the release of the massive failures detailed in the command’s investigation, ProPublica reported. reported. Jones argued that his efforts should not indicate that “the Navy needed a scapegoat, so we chose the E-1.” Military justice experts have long criticized an intractable practice that shifts accountability up the chain of command while senior leaders avoid the most serious blame, often characterized by troops as “different Spanx for different teams.”

The fire, which broke out on the morning of July 12, 2020, spread to the sparsely crewed vessel and burned for four days. Ultimately the Navy punished more than 20 people, including three admirals. According to ProPublica. The ship’s senior leadership — the captain, executive officer and top enlisted sailor — received letters of reprimand, ProPublica reported, which severely limits promotions and typically ends the careers of those who receive them.

But Mays became the most visible sailor connected to the disaster, with the Navy saying he welded cardboard to the bottom compartment after being flustered by being left out of the Navy SEAL exam. The lawyers pointed out A text message In evidence to his division officer, Mace stated that he was determined to prove his own assessment that the cluttered boxes made the ship dangerous.

A naval judge recommended against going to trial, citing a lack of evidence, but Deputy Administrator. Stephen D. KohlerAP reports that the federal prosecutor has decided to proceed with the case.

The Bonhomme Richard fire is the latest in a series of disasters that have called into question the leadership and oversight of senior Navy leaders. The first of them collided at sea in 2017, killing 17 sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain. Following those cases, several officers were fired and the Navy vowed to refocus on the Navy.

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The Navy also took over Flooding of tap water with jet fuel Last year at a base in Hawaii, the Department of Defense was ordered to evacuate and remove sick military families and vast fields of underground fuel tanks.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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