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Navy: Nuclear sub fire was caused by man who wanted to leave work

July 23, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • This file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, shows the submarine Miami SSN 755, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
This file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, shows the submarine Miami SSN… (Kevin Langford, U.S. Navy )

Back in June, two weeks after a nuclear submarine went up in flames at a Maine shipyard and caused $400 million in damage, Navy officials thought the blaze might have been caused by a vacuum cleaner that had sucked up something hot. 

Nope.

According to charges filed Monday in federal court, the fire was started by a stressed, anxious, depressed, heavily medicated painter who had a panic attack and wanted to get out of work. The May 23 blaze injured seven people who were trying to put it out.  

The fire was “the most significant event ever experienced at the shipyard," said acting shipyard commander Cmdr. James Kalowsky on SeaCoastOnline.com.

The charges come as the result of two confessions, not just one. The first confession came after a second, smaller fire singed the submarine Miami in dry dock on June 16.

In an interview -- detailed in the charges -- with an investigator two days later, Casey James Fury, a 24-year-old civilian who also did sandblasting work on the sub, admitted to setting the small fire because of a panic attack that made him want to leave work.

“At some point, he began texting his former girlfriend and attempted to convince her that the guy she started seeing was not just a friend like she had been claiming,” NCIS Special Agent Jeremy Gauthier wrote in the complaint. “Fury explained that he became anxious over the text conversation with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to leave work.”

Fury initially denied involvement in setting the first fire, which nearly ruined the submarine. Then he willingly gave a lie-detector test two days later. At that point, he broke down under questioning and confessed, Gauthier said.

“His anxiety started getting really bad” on May 23, according to the complaint, making him again want to leave work. Ultimately, he left the torpedo room where he was working, taking his lighter and cigarettes and going into a room with bunk beds.

Gauthier said Fury admitted to lighting some rags on fire with his lighter and watching long enough to see the flames get two inches high before going back into the torpedo room where he was stripping paint. A co-worker soon warned him of a fire, and he escaped.

Later, after investigators had chipped away Fury’s denials and gotten his story, he told them he initially lied to them about setting the first fire because he was scared and “because everything was blurry to him and his memory was impaired due to his anxiety and the medications he was taking at the time,” the complaint said.

“He explained that he was taking Celexa for anxiety and depression, Klonopin for anxiety, Ambien for sleep" and an allergy drug, Gauthier wrote. “I have learned on June 21, 2012” — the day after Fury allegedly confessed to setting the major blaze — “Fury checked himself into an in-patient mental health facility and checked out of the facility on June 23.”

Local police said Fury had no prior arrests in Portsmouth, the location of the naval base and Fury’s old high school, according to Foster’s Daily Democrat. 

Fury now faces two counts of arson in the Maine district federal court under a special naval specification that carries prison terms of up to 25 years plus fines and the cost of the damage -- except in cases in which a life is placed in jeopardy. In that type of case, a conviction could lead to a life sentence. His public defender, David Beneman, declined to comment to the Associated Press.

In a statement, the Navy said it's begun planning repairs with the goal of returning the Miami to the fleet.

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nation@latimes.com

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