The civilian truck driver the Navy says killed a sailor aboard a ship in Virginia once faced a murder charge in North Carolina but ended up pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was out of prison less than two years later, court records show.
The Navy said 35-year-old Jeffrey Tyrone Savage drove onto Naval Station Norfolk on Monday night, parked his 2002 Freightliner near a pier and walked onto the USS Mahan. It says he disarmed the ship’s petty officer of the watch and used her weapon to kill another sailor who stepped in to protect her in a shootout. Savage was killed by Navy security forces.
The Navy has said Savage had a valid transportation credential that could have gotten him access to the base, although he didn’t have a legitimate reason to be there.
Killed in the shooting was 24-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo of Hagerstown, Md. Navy officials have said there’s no indication the attack was planned or had any link to terrorism. Navy investigators have also said there’s no indication Savage of Chesapeake had any previous relationship with the ship or anyone on it. The Navy has no records indicating Savage ever served in the Navy either, a Navy Personnel Command spokeswoman said Friday.
Court records show Savage was charged in the 2005 shooting death of Maurice Griffin, a 30-year-old Chesapeake resident, in Charlotte. They were driving from Georgia to Virginia when they fought over a handgun. Savage shot Griffin and left his body on the side of an Interstate 85 on-ramp. Police were called when someone passing by saw Griffin’s body, originally thinking it was a deer.
Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty against Savage if he didn’t settle the case with a guilty plea, according to court records. Savage entered a guilty plea in February 2008 and was released from prison at the end of 2009.
Including jail, he was behind bars less than six years for the crime.
Savage and Griffin had been best friends before the shooting, according to Griffin’s aunt, Vanessa Griffin.
“He killed my nephew and he was supposed to be his best friend,” she said. “The saddest part about it is he shot him in the head and … put him out on highway 85. So that tells me a lot.”
After Navy officials identified Savage as the shooter, Vanessa Griffin relived the painful memories of her nephew’s death. She said she had met Savage on numerous occasions and knew that he “was bad and did a lot of things.”
Among other things, Savage’s criminal history includes possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine.
“When it came to Jeff and what I’ve heard about him, anything was possible for him to do,” said Vanessa Griffin, who lives in Chesapeake. “He would have went to any extreme to whatever he had to do. To me, he was a dangerous man.”
The transportation credential Savage possessed – a Transportation Worker Identity Credential – is issued by the Transportation Security Administration and is valid for five years. People with criminal records for certain crimes are allowed to have a card, as long as they have been out of prison for at least 5 years, according to the TSA’s website. However, applicants can also apply for a waiver.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging they conduct a review of security procedures on military bases.
“I have grave concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the TWIC program,” Warner wrote.
Warner said the TWIC program has been plagued by problems since its inception. He noted that a 2011 Government Accountability Office report said that weaknesses in the program’s enrollment, background checking and use, “limit the program’s ability to provide reasonable assurance that access to secure areas . is restricted to qualified individuals.”
Warner sent Mabus and Johnson a list of questions he wants answered in a briefing, including whether naval security personnel appropriately cleared Savage and properly followed security protocols.
“Our military men and women who willingly serve in harm’s way overseas should have a reasonable expectation of safety on a U.S. military facility here at home,” Warner wrote.