NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Security lapses at the main gate to the world's largest naval base allowed a civilian to come on base in 2014 and fatally shoot a sailor aboard a destroyer, according to a Navy investigation.
The report says Jeffrey Tyrone Savage drove on base at night without being asked for identification or his authorization to be there: the civilian police officer standing guard at the gate apparently thought Savage was going to make a U-turn. Instead, Savage continued driving onto the expansive base and parked his truck with its motor still running near the pier where the USS Mahan and a hospital ship were docked.
The investigation says Savage didn't have any legitimate reason to be on base and his motive for coming onto the base remains unknown.
Security at the pier and aboard the ship were never notified by police at the gate that someone had gained unauthorized access to the base, nor were any other security officials at the base aside from other guards at the gate. At the time, it wasn't uncommon to see a civilian on the pier because the Mahan was undergoing maintenance and the USNS Comfort hospital ship is manned by civilians. Security aboard the Mahan initially assumed Savage was a nonthreatening, intoxicated civilian mariner or worker who was authorized to be on base.
The investigation says it took nine minutes for the unidentified police officer who let Savage through the gate to go looking for him, in part, because he continued checking the identification for several other cars after Savage drove through. That officer eventually found Savage's abandoned truck, but didn't notify dispatch. Instead, he returned to the main gate.
Meanwhile, Savage had been able to simply walk through a pedestrian gate onto the pier without being stopped. The report says that's because the sole sentry at the pier entrance was busy moving barrel-like traffic cones to allow another guard to drive onto the pier.
Once on the pier, Savage ignored calls to stop and show his identification. After wandering around the pier and rifling through several tool boxes, he eventually walked onto the Mahan in a nonthreatening manner and said he "just wanted to talk," the report says.
After ignoring more calls to stop and produce identification, a sailor standing watch on the ship produced her gun. Savage eventually wrestled the weapon — which was not secured by a lanyard as required — away. The report says that sailor wasn't able to shoot Savage because she couldn't disengage the safety lock.
The report says Savage appeared intoxicated, issued no verbal threats and displayed no indications of malicious intent until he "inexplicably" attempted to wrestle a weapon away from the guard.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo of Hagerstown, Maryland, who was patrolling the lengthy pier in a vehicle, was responding to the commotion at the time Savage was on the ship.
The report says Mayo ran up to the ship and jumped between Savage and the other sailor to protect her following the struggle over her gun. Mayo was shot multiple times, according to the report.
"Petty Officer Mayo's bravery and selfless protection of his shipmates cannot be overstated," Adm. Bill Gortney, the former commander of U.S. Fleet Forces command, wrote in his endorsement of the investigation.
Mayo was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the Navy.
Savage was shot and killed by Navy security.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis