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17 years and $400m in restitution for USS Miami arsonist

New Hamsphire Union Leader

March 15. 2013 1:09PM

PORTLAND, Maine – A former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worker who set fire to the USS Miami nuclear submarine was sentenced Friday to a little more than 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution of $400M.

Casey James Fury, 26, formerly of Portsmouth, was a painter and sandblaster for three years at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, when he set a fire on May 23 in a stateroom so he could be sent home from work. The blaze, fueled by the enamel paint on the submarine's ceilings and walls, caused $450 to $500 million in damage.

Fury was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Portland by U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal. Fury was ordered to make $400 million in restitution, though prosecutors admit that's unlikely to happen.

Fury had agreed to a plea bargain that called for a sentence of between 15 and a half to just over 17 years on two arson counts. At sentencing, prosecutors argued for the maximum, the defense for the minimum.

The first fire was on May 23 about 5:30 p.m. Wanting to go home, Fury lit a plastic bag containing cotton rags on top of a bed in a stateroom in the forward compartment of the nuclear powered Los Angeles class attack submarine in dry dock for maintenance.

Five firefighters and two shipyard workers were injured as they fought the blaze for 12 hours.

Fury, who has a history of anxiety and depression, was in a panic that day. With no sick days or vacation time left, he set the blaze so he could go home, according to court documents filed by Federal Defender David Beneman. Fury expected someone would see the fire and put it out since the submarine is outfitted with fire extinguishers. He never expected it would cause the damage it did, Beneman said.

But the fire spread quickly igniting enamel paint used on the walls and ceiling of the submarine, Beneman wrote. Naval and ATF tests established the burning rags alone did not create enough heat or energy to spread the fire. It was the enamel paint on the walls and ceilings of the submarine that fueled the expanding fire, according to Beneman. The enamel paint hazard was not previously recognized, he said.

Less than a month after the devastating blaze, Fury started a second fire using alcohol wipes on June 16 at 7 p.m. on the dry dock blocks on which the Miami rests. Again, he did it so he could get out of work early. This fire was quickly extinguished and caused little or no damage but did result in the submarine being evacuated.

Prosecutors acknowledged Fury started the first fire as a distraction but said it spread quickly and caused catastrophic damage. Fury rushed off the submarine to safety, alongside colleagues who feared for their lives as smoke filled hallways barely large enough to walk through while wearing regular clothing, let alone fire-fighting equipment, wrote Assistant U.S. Atty. Darcie N. McElwee. The defendant then watched from the safety of the pier as others risked their lives to battle the blaze, according to McElwee.

Fury's conduct, the prosecutor said, has far-reaching consequences and, because of sequestration, repair of the USS Miami has been deferred. While the Miami is out of commission, other submarines will be at sea longer. Fury's action, the prosecutor said, cost the United States the use of an vital national asset for 18 months beyond the originally scheduled 19.6 month maintenance period.

The court recommended Fury serve his time in a prison able to address his mental health needs. On release, Fury will remain on supervised release for five years.

Union Leader correspondent Gretyl Macalaster contributed to this report.

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