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FBI to probe bus driver shooting as a possible hate crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating as a hate crime the shooting and stabbing incident involving Regional Transit Authority bus driver Rickey Wagoner, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Tuesday.

The chief visited the site of the reported attack Tuesday along with other top police officials as the investigation continued. Biehl said he asked the FBI for assistance on Monday and that the bureau, which specializes in crimes of that nature, has already assigned an agent to the case.

Biehl said investigators are now analyzing evidence, including a video tape aboard the bus and a .25-caliber handgun said to have been used by one of the assailants. “We’re investigating this as a hate crime because of the information provided by the victim,” Biehl said.

Wagoner told police he was shot and stabbed Monday morning in the 1900 block of Lakeview Avenue, while standing outside of his electric-powered trolley bus investigating why it lost power. A 911 call came in at 5:20 a.m. alerting police to the shooting.

“I’ve been hit in the leg,” Wagoner told an emergency dispatcher. “My chest feels like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer.”

Wagoner told police three shots were fired — one struck him in the right leg and two were fired into his chest. Police said Wagoner told them those bullets were stopped by a New Testament book in his shirt pocket. Police later referred to the book as a religious devotional titled “The Message,” which is a modern translation of the Bible.

Wagoner’s son Rickey Wagoner Jr. declined to speak in an interview but wrote Monday afternoon, “Dad is doing good now and my family and I are just lucky he is still alive,” on his Facebook page. Wagoner was released from Miami Valley Hospital, but details of his injuries was not made available.

Wagoner, who is white, described the attackers as young black males wearing dark blue bandannas that covered their faces. He said they were likely in their late teens and fled in a dark-colored 1990s model Ford. No arrests have been made.

According to a police report, Wagoner told investigators he believed the shooting might have been a gang initiation. He said he heard one of the suspects tell another to kill him “if you want to be all the way in the club” and that they were there to “shoot a polar bear” — street lingo for a white person. Wagoner said he wrestled the gun away from the shooter, but he was stabbed by another in the left arm.

Biehl said police are examining the street gang initiation angle as well, but the chief could not recall anything similar to the type of attack described by the driver.

“Gang initiations do occur,” Biehl said. “They may involve ‘beat ins’ - assaults of initiates by other gang members - or involve the commission of a crime. It is difficult to speculate on the frequency of such occurrences as the initiation process is often self-contained within the gangs.”

Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Mark Donaghy said: “This is an extraordinary event for us. This is extremely rare.”

Wagoner, the driver who told police he was attacked, is a dedicated and dutiful employee, Donaghy said. Wagoner was released from Miami Valley Hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Wagoner, a 10-year RTA employee, spent all his time at RTA as a bus driver, Donaghy said. Wagoner is also a union steward for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1385.

Donaghy described Wagoner as an employee with perfect attendance. On the job, Wagoner had a 90 percent on-time rating for serving his bus route. “He is one of our best employees,” Donaghy said. “We’re happy he is recovering.”

Donaghy said that RTA has beefed up personnel assigned to Route 8 to reassure the public.

The reported attack took place on a lonely stretch of road that handles little foot or vehicle traffic. Other than buses, few vehicles pass along that portion of Lakeview, according to neighbors.

“It’s isolated and nothing’s coming down here,” said Mary Brooks, who lives on the 1800 block of Lakeview and runs a hair business in the same structure. Brooks’ home is one of the closest residences to the scene.

Not much goes on on Lakeview these days, said 75-year-old Bob Park, who owns a warehouse located on the 1900 block of Lakeview Avenue, which is the only building in the immediate vicinity of the scene. Park visits the property every day, but said he was not present during the alleged attack.

Park, however, said he has had no problems in about 15 years, and the area is fairly safe. He said he has good relationships with the neighbors, and he was dismayed to hear about the violent encounter.

“It’s really shocking that he could have been shot right here,” he said. “I think there are a lot of worse places on the east side than right here.”

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