SAN DIEGO — Third day of trial of U.S. v Mays brought an end to the science-based expert witnesses who discussed the start and origin of the fire, and shifted to a personal focus of Seaman Ryan Mays.

A senior chief in the Navy testified that Mays was “cocky” and “arrogant” during Wednesday’s trial.

Mays is accused of starting a fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard on July 12, 2020 that burned for nearly five days. The ship was a total loss and caused more than a billion dollars in damages.

The government has claimed Mays was disgruntled about not making it to Seals training and started the fire, but the defense has discussed that there is a lack of evidence in the case that points to Mays starting the fire.

The ATF’s 250-page fire and origin report claims the fire was started by an open flame to a tri-wall with a combustible liquid present. The defense has maintained the question about the investigation into eight lithium ion batteries found where the report said the fire started.

On Wednesday morning, the court first heard from Mark Gratowski, who works with the ATF at the Fire Research Lab in Maryland. He conducted a count of the heat detectors in the lower V of the vessel, which is where the fire started. The Lower V has been used as a sort of storage area and at the time of the fire, forklifts, tri-walls, batteries, among other items were stored there.

Gratowski said there were between 40-45 heat detectors in the Lower V, which sends a signal data back to the damage control center, which he said he verified the data. Gratowski said the heat detectors do not work like a smoke detector and they only go off when they reach around 125 degrees.

Gratowski said the heat detectors in the Lower V activated as if there were two separate fires, something that has been discussed, but was not consistent with the findings in the final cause and origin report from the ATF.

Gratowski said he conducted fire tests with tri-walls filled with binders, paper and file folders and placed a battery that had failed nearby, to see if the fire would ignite. He found that yes, failed lithium ION batteries can catch on fire.

Michael Abraham with the ATF, who also worked in the fire research lab as an electrical engineer, testified next as an expert in the case. He was also part of the national response team, or NRT, that responded to the scene of the fire. He said he worked 11 days on the scene of the Navy vessel and had photos taken of various items that he was interested in. He does not believe the forklifts or batteries caused the fire in this case, but said batteries that are the cause of the fire and victim of a fire can look similar, however, due to minimal-to-no difference between the eight batteries on the scene in the fire, he claimed they did not cause the fire.

Abraham said he examined the forklift and batteries visually on the scene and determined that no further testing was needed. It wasn’t until after the Article 32 hearing in December, that more testing was completed on the batteries. The defense argued the batteries had been sitting for more than a year between the time of the fire and the time the batteries were tested and scanned. Abraham said it is possible the contents could have changed.

Lieutenant Lounsbury testified after the lunch recess, starting the change from science-based to personal and professional-relationship testimonies.

She testified that many sailors were beginning to move from the barge to the ship, but there had been a lot of confusion on the timing and process. She said she received a text message from Seaman Mays on July 6, six days before the fire. She testified that the text message read in part, that he was upset they were having to move into the Berthing deck, and he could not sleep while ‘hot work’ was still going on and that it was a “safety hazard.”

Lt. Lounsbury testified that ”hot work’ was never scheduled and people were generally not notified that contractors were going to be completed any work ahead of time. She said generally contractors did whatever they wanted.

She said Seaman Mays’ text to her included two expletives and said it was hazardous/dangerous and could “catch on fire.” He discussed the boat was not up to “standard,” he believes and his text message read, “it needs to be passed up the chain of command asap.”

The text message was included as evidence, but was not shown to the galley in the court Wednesday.

Another sailor testified that he sent a text message to Seaman Mays several days before the fire, reminding him and other sailors in a group chat that they needed to go to a fire-readiness training on July 13. The government argued that Seaman Mays knew that not all sailors on board would be prepared to handle a fire onboard the ship. The defense tried to object to this notion.

Senior Chief Michael Simms with the U.S. Navy said he was stationed on Bonhomme Richard from 2019-2021 and knew Mays.

Senior Chief Simms testified that they did not have a log or inventory of the items stored in the Lower V, there was no security to get into lower V and many contractors were in and out of the Lower V. He also testified that contractors and other government services used this ship’s lower V as storage, or “staging area,” as they called it. Simms said he was concerned with the lower V and had raised concerns about the area in the past.

Simms said he was last in the Lower V on July 10 prior to the fire and testified that after he went back to the Lower V after the fire. Some items were changed, including the tri-walls, which were stacked on top of each other, instead of being in a single-layer.

He testified that Mays was a “cocky, disrespectful” sailor that “lacked military bearing,” and said that not all of the sailors liked him.

The government has claimed Mays was upset about not being a Navy Seal and had repeated his desire to go to Buds. During Wednesday’s testimony, the government asked if Simms would have given Mays the recommendation to go to SEALS training prior to the fire on July 12. He responded, “No.”

“I think the government is putting on the best case they can in regards to what they believe caused the fire and the witnesses they are presenting today are to try and rule out any other potential causes,” Gary Barthel who represented Mays previously said. “Velasco, the alleged eyewitness who saw a maze go down into the Lower V, he will probably be a witness {Thursday} for the government.”

Mays’ wife, 21, and his family from Kentucky were in the courtroom. According to Barthel, the government paid for their travel expenses so they could be in the courtroom to support Mays.

Mays has pleaded not guilty to charged of aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.