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No bail for man accused in slaying of Tampa bus driver

Justin Ryan McGriff, 35, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus driver, according to police. [Tampa Police Department]
Published May 24

TAMPA — A man accused in the apparently random death of a Tampa city bus driver will remain in jail without bail while the case against him proceeds through court, a judge decided Friday.

The decision came after witnesses testified about events leading up to the arrest Saturday of Justin Ryan McGriff. McGriff, 35, faces a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Thomas Dunn, 46, who was killed as he steered a bus south on Nebraska Avenue a few blocks south of Linebaugh Avenue.

Tampa police homicide Detective Kenneth Nightlinger testified about a series of surveillance images taken from different areas of the bus showing a man he identified as McGriff sitting in the back of the bus, leaning forward and peering toward the front. At one point, he reaches into his back left pocket and pulls out an object that the detective said was knife.

Related: Tampa bus driver killed in stabbing had complained about safety issues

Other photos show the man clenching the object in his right hand as he walks down the bus's center aisle, the detective said. He approached the driver, standing behind him. They spoke briefly; an audio recording captured the conversation.

"God bless you," McGriff said, according to the detective.

"What was that?" Dunn said.

"God bless you," he said again.

"Thank you," Dunn said. "God bless you, too."

At that, McGriff lunged forward, slitting Dunn's throat.

Previous coverage: Assailant in bus attack told driver, 'God bless you,' before slitting his throat, report says

Passengers panicked. Dunn steered the bus to the right and began to slow down as he slumped against his seat belt. McGriff moved to the door, the detective said, looked back at the driver, then forced his way out.

Passengers called 911. One of them was DeShawn Campbell. Campbell testified that he saw the man who killed the driver and described him as wearing a black shirt, jeans, a white hat, sunglasses, and having light facial hair.

The description matched McGriff, whom police later spotted walking nearby. He kept walking when they told him to stop, police said. They chased him up an embankment toward Interstate 275, where he was shocked with a stun gun and handcuffed.

McGriff's sneakers had blood on them, Nightlinger testified.

Related: Slain HART driver chose busy route because he 'loved people,' friend says

"There is no evidence that this was anything other than a random attack on a complete stranger," Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale said, arguing that McGriff poses a danger to the community.

Assistant Public Defender Maria Dunker questioned how McGriff was identified as the person who committed the slaying. She noted that there were other witnesses who were unsure whether it was him. She also questioned the legality of the officers stopping and detaining McGriff.

But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Joelle Ober found that there was a substantial probablity that McGriff committed the crime and that there were no reasonable bail conditions sufficient to protect the community.

McGriff was not present for Friday's hearing. None of the testimony shed light on why the crime occurred.

Court records show that people who knew McGriff told police he had been behaving erratically for several days.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com. Follow @TimesDan.

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