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Biehl asks for patience in probe of bus driver shooting

Driver’s statements inconsistent with some evidence, police chief says.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl offered new details Wednesday on the investigation into what a city bus driver described as a violent struggle with three youths that left him bleeding from a gunshot wound.

The investigation is also being assisted by an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is examining whether the incident is a hate crime. The driver, Rickey Wagoner, 49, who is white, said that after his trolley bus lost electric power he went outside to investigate and was confronted and attacked by three teenage black men wearing blue bandannas over their faces.

One of them, Wagoner told police, said to another: “If you want to be all in the club, you have to kill the polar bear,” an apparent street slang reference to a white person. Police are also trying to determine whether the incident was part of a gang initiation.

Wagoner said one of the men pointed a handgun as his chest and fired twice. But Wagoner said the bullets were stopped by a Christian devotional book he carried called “The Message,” sparing him from more severe injury. Wagoner said he was shot in the thigh while struggling for the gun.

Biehl said the investigation would be methodical and thorough, using DNA evidence techniques and analysis of an audio and visual recording made by a camera mounted inside the bus. Investigators will also use ballistics analysis to examine the bullets that struck the book. That will all take weeks, Biehl said.

As of Wednesday, police had found no other witnesses to the incident and Biehl asked that anyone with information telephone (937)222-7867.

The incident occurred Monday morning at the start of the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority driver’s route. Biehl noted that investigators are only 60 hours or so into the probe and are still assembling and analyzing basic facts and evidence. Wagoner was released from the hospital Tuesday.

Police have recovered seven rounds and a handgun, a Raven model P-25. Wagoner was able to wrestle the .25-caliber firearm away from one of three assailants, according to his account of the incident. Police also recovered what appeared to be a hunting-style knife that had blood on it that Wagoner said he also took from the three. Biehl said attempts were underway to uncover the serial number on the handgun.

Police have offered no detailed descriptions of the attackers, although Wagoner said they wore jeans and hooded sweatshirts. Wagoner told police that after he got the gun away from them, they began to run away. Fearing they would return with more weapons, Wagoner said he fired bullets from their gun at them. They then jumped into a 1990s model dark-colored Ford and drove away, he said.

Wagoner could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Surveillance footage from inside the bus shows the following:

The trolley comes to a stop along a curb of a dark street and the lights inside the bus cut out at about 5:05 a.m.

Wagoner curses and can be seen walking to the back of the bus in darkness. He then walks back down the aisle and exits the bus. At 5:11 a.m., the camera captures the sound of a single gunshot. Two minutes later, three shots are heard in quick succession. Within 30 seconds, Wagoner can be heard cussing and groaning as he climbs back aboard. He cries out in pain.

The lights switch back on and Wagoner starts the bus. He starts driving west on Lakeview Avenue, on his way to the West Town bus hub.

Wagoner contacts police and tells a 911 dispatcher that he was attacked. “When I got the knife and gun away from them, they started running and I shot at them,” he told emergency dispatchers. “I’ve got their gun and knife in the bus with me.”

Wagoner told police he received the thigh wound while struggling for the gun and the laceration to his arm from the knife used by another assailant. He said he used a six-inch metal pen to stab one of the men in the lower part of his leg.

The firearm then fell to the ground, Wagoner told police. He said he grabbed the gun, unjammed a bullet stuck in the chamber and fired at the fleeing suspects. Wagoner said he emptied the clip, a police report said.

Biehl asked for patience while police investigate the case and examine physical evidence recovered from the scene, which includes four spent bullet casings, three live rounds and blood droplets.

The chief warned that victim’s recollections of crimes can be incomplete or erroneous.

“Some elements of the (victim’s) statement are inconsistent with the physical evidence,” Biehl said. “But it doesn’t mean it didn’t occur and he wasn’t assaulted. It just means there’s an inconsistency we need to try to resolve.”

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