DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Authorities said Wednesday that they are investigating whether the shooting of a bus driver who said a book of Bible verses in his pocket helped stop two bullets could have been a hate crime.
Bus driver Rickey Wagoner, who is white, told Dayton police that he was outside his bus early Monday when three black men shot at him, with two bullets hitting the book in his shirt pocket and one hitting his leg. He said he was also stabbed in the arm.
Wagoner, 49, was released from the hospital Tuesday.
Police Chief Richard Biehl said Wednesday that he became concerned about the possibility of a hate crime after reading the initial police report and that he forwarded the report to the FBI’s Dayton office.
“They are working with us,” he said.
FBI spokesman Rick Smith said agents will help determine whether the shooting was a hate crime, a federal civil rights violation.
Biehl said Wednesday that police recovered a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol and a knife along with four spent rounds and three live rounds from the gun. He said the spent rounds match the number of shots heard on an audio recording from the bus.
“We are looking to get the audio and video of the bus recording enhanced,” he said.
Biehl said there were no witnesses and no video of the shooting.
Police are analyzing evidence that includes the knife, shell casings, bullets and the gun.
A driver for the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority, Wagoner said he stopped the bus to check a mechanical problem around 5 a.m. Monday when the men approached him. Wagoner told police he fought back and grabbed the gun and that the men ran away. Wagoner told police he fired at them before driving the bus to safety and calling for help.
Wagoner said in his 911 call that he felt two shots to his chest.
“It just feels like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer,” Wagoner said on the 911 call.
Police said two small-caliber bullets hit the booklet called “The Message,” which has Bible verses in contemporary language, and were found lodged inside the book.
The book appeared to be about an inch thick in a photo police displayed Wednesday showing where two bullets entered through its cover.
Wagoner told police he just started carrying the book about a week earlier.