Officials ID shooting victim in chase involving Gwinnett bus

Police: Suspect arrested 19 times held 17 people hostage on bus, driver at gunpoint

A chaotic chase involving a hijacked transit bus that spanned three counties ended Tuesday afternoon with a person shot to death and a felon arrested, officials said.

Joseph Grier, 39, was taken into custody at about 5:15 p.m. after the Gwinnett bus was stopped on Hugh Howell Road near Tucker, Atlanta police Chief Darin Schierbaum said during a news conference near the bus. A Georgia State Patrol trooper had to shoot at the bus’ engine compartment to disable it after it did not stop despite its tires being flattened.

When officers cleared the bus, they found a man with a gunshot wound, police said. Ernest Byrd Jr., 58, was taken to the hospital but later died from his wounds, police confirmed.

Authorities said 17 people, including the driver, were on the bus. While police said there were no other injuries, the GBI said the driver was taken to a hospital. The nature of the hospitalization wasn’t clear. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens confirmed that the driver was held at gunpoint during the ordeal.

“My heart goes out to the family of the one individual that is deceased at this time. My heart also goes out to the individuals that had to endure this frightening journey across multiple jurisdictions,” Dickens said.

The bus began its wild ride after a fight broke out on the vehicle while it was in downtown Atlanta at 45 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, police said. Dispatchers received their first call around 4:30 p.m. about a gunman who was holding people hostage and that a firearm had potentially been discharged. An officer arrived a minute later and confronted Grier, who then forced the bus driver to drive off, officials said.

According to the GBI, Grier got into a fight with a man on the bus shortly after boarding. The man pulled out a gun, and Grier took the gun from him and began threatening passengers with it, according to the state agency. He then shot the man, the GBI said, and ordered the bus driver to flee the scene while continuing to threaten the passengers.

A second 911 caller reported they were receiving text messages from a family member inside the bus saying it had been hijacked. A final call came from a person who was inside the bus, and that caller remained on the line until the vehicle was finally stopped in DeKalb.

Atlanta police began to pursue the bus on I-85 near Spaghetti Junction, following it into Gwinnett. The bus exited onto Jimmy Carter Boulevard before heading south, with state troopers and police trailing behind it.

Multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the pursuit, including Atlanta police, the Georgia State Patrol and APD’s aviation unit. DeKalb police and marshals helped surround the bus after it came to a stop, and a SWAT vehicle could be seen directly in front of it. The GBI will be assisting Atlanta police with the investigation.

During the chase, the bus sideswiped multiple cars that could not move out of the way in time. Patrol cars swarmed the vehicle as it traveled down Jimmy Carter Boulevard, with several racing ahead to either clear traffic with their lights and sirens or divert the runaway transit vehicle.

At times, confused motorists seemed unable to get clear of the huge column of law enforcement vehicles running ahead of and behind the rogue bus.

Grier is a felon with 19 previous arrests, authorities said.

Fulton court records show his prior arrests involved violent crimes. In June 2019, he was arrested by Atlanta police on aggravated assault and aggravated battery charges, according to court records. He stayed in jail until September 2020.

In February 2023, Grier was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in DeKalb, jail records show. He was released three months later.

“This individual has held someone, a driver at gunpoint across multiple jurisdictions, and so we all have to say enough is enough when it comes to too many people having guns in their hands and using them in violence,” Dickens said.

The GBI will conduct an independent investigation into the use of force by the trooper who fired at the bus. Once complete, the case file will be given to the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office for review.

It was the 31st officer-involved shooting the GBI has been asked to investigate this year.