NORFOLK, Va. — The man who drove a semi-truck onto Norfolk Naval Station before killing a sailor received his transportation worker credential within the past few months, a source close to the investigation said Friday.
The detail comes a day after the Navy identified Jeffrey Tyrone Savage as the man at the center of its investigation into the shooting aboard the guided missile destroyer Mahan on Monday.
Savage, 35, has a long criminal record, including convictions for selling drugs and manslaughter, but family members said they believed the man who grew up in Portsmouth had finally begun to turn his life around after years in and out of prison.
They pointed to Savage's marriage last year to a long-time girlfriend and his efforts over the past several months to start a new career as a commercial truck driver.
"We had seen a change in Jeffrey," said Rena Duffie, a cousin who lives on Virginia's Eastern Shore. "When we looked at him, we didn't see the old Jeffrey anymore. We saw a man who loved his wife and had committed himself to being a good father and providing for his family. We thought the old Jeffrey was gone."
The family is asking many of the same questions investigators are asking. What was Savage doing on the naval base late Monday? What prompted him to park his truck near pier 1 and climb aboard a warship? Why did he wrest control of a guard's gun and kill a man?
The Navy also wants to know how Savage managed to breach at least two security checkpoints. Savage used his Transportation Worker Identification Credential to drive through Gate 5 and showed the security credential again to get onto Pier 1. But the card alone should not have been enough to get past either entry control point.
Savage's truck was owned by Majette Trucking in Portsmouth. He regularly worked for Rail Port Services in Chesapeake. Neither company would talk to reporters Friday.
Sources said Savage had become a regular in the security line at Norfolk International Terminals, but he rarely if ever delivered or picked up freight from the naval station.
To do that work, he relied on the same Transportation Worker Identification Credential he used to get into Norfolk Naval Station. His TWIC card was issued in 2014 by the Transportation Safety Administration, which administers the program. It is good for five years.
Savage would have had to pass a background check to receive the card, which allows unescorted access to secure ports and military installations. Manslaughter is not listed among the list of offenses that might disqualify someone from receiving the credential.
Efforts to reach TSA Administrator John Pistole and the agency’s public affairs director, LuAnn Canipe, were unsuccessful. All questions were referred to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA. DHS deferred questions to a Pentagon spokeswoman, who replied saying only DHS or TSA could answer questions about the TWIC program.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner expressed “grave concerns” over the incident. In a letter dated Friday to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Warner asked for briefings on the security breach and the status of the TWIC program.
The security breach came seven months after a civilian shot and killed 12 people and wounded four others at the Washington Navy Yard. That attack spurred the Defense Department to recommend changes to base security procedures “yet seven months later, another violent incident on a Navy base led to loss of life perpetrated by individuals who had federal credentials allowing them base access,” Warner wrote.
Navy officials said Friday they've ordered no official changes to base security procedures in light of the security breach.
By policy, TWIC cards are not enough to gain unescorted access to any Navy base. Navy officials say drivers also must have a verifiable reason for entering the base. They said Savage did not.
At Norfolk Naval Station, a delivery driver using a TWIC card must first go to a vehicle inspection area just outside the base, where trucks are examined and visitors must show proof of official business, such as a bill of lading or manifest. A driver is then issued a temporary visitor pass and proceeds to the gate.
Drivers with TWIC cards who are not making deliveries should go to a separate pass office where they must give a reason for their visit. The pass office is supposed to verify that and run the driver's name through the National Crime Information Center, a computerized index of criminal justice information such as outstanding warrants.
Pilot writers Bill Bartel, Robert McCabe and Corinne Reilly contributed to this report.