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Butte bus hijacker sentenced to 10 years in custody of mental health officials
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Butte bus hijacker sentenced to 10 years in custody of mental health officials

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Bus hijacker Dane Gibson sentenced

Dane Gibson listens as District Judge Kurt Krueger reads his sentence for a bus hijacking that occurred on Jan. 30, 2019 in Butte. Also pictured in the video conference call in the top boxes from left: Judge Kurt Krueger, attorneys for the prosecution and defense, and Brian Bersuch, who was driving the bus.

A man who previously claimed he was being chased by MS-13 gang members when he hijacked a bus and held a man hostage in Butte said he was sorry Wednesday before a judge sentenced him to 10 years in custody of state mental health officials.

“I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed,” 54-year-old Dane Anthony Gibson of Spokane, Washington told the court before apologizing specifically to Brian Bersuch, who was driving the bus that January day in 2019. In the end, nobody was physically hurt.

“I am sorry for what I did. It’s not me,” Gibson said, choking back tears while appearing virtually from the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. “I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me someday.”

Bersuch also spoke via video while prosecutor Mike Clague and public defender Ed Sheehy appeared in court before District Judge Kurt Krueger. Bersuch is still driving buses but said he will “probably always deal with this the rest of my life.”

“It makes me nervous when someone sits behind me,” he said. “It actually scares me.”

Prosecutors recommended the sentence for Gibson, who pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon in December. As part of a plea deal, the state dropped a charge of aggravated kidnapping that can carry a life prison term.

Krueger technically sentenced Gibson to 20 years in custody of state health officials, but suspended 10 of them. He is at the state hospital now but officials can transfer him later to any number of supervised mental health, correctional or residential facilities.

Sheehy argued Wednesday for 10 years in custody with five suspended but the judge sided with the state’s recommendations.

Krueger had ordered in December 2019 that Gibson be medicated with antipsychotic drugs, forcibly if necessary, to see if he could ultimately assist in his own defense. Sheehy said Wednesday that medications had gotten the delusions under control.

A forensic psychologist had previously testified that Gibson was in great physical shape and had not posed any threats to himself or staff at the state hospital, but continued “to harbor a number of delusions” about what happened in Butte on Jan. 30, 2019.

Gibson has said he was being chased by MS-13 gang members when the hijacking occurred and believes the hostage was a member of the gang. He said gang members followed him to Montana and were “spoofing” his phone — claims the psychologist deemed delusional.

According to police and prosecutors, Gibson and Dameane Baumgartner were the only two passengers on a Jefferson Lines bus going from Missoula to Billings when it pulled into Butte for a stop that day.

The driver heard Gibson say he had a gun and a bomb and wanted to go to the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse to speak to someone without ever saying who that was.

The driver went to the Civic Center on Harrison Avenue instead and when Gibson was distracted, hopped off and disabled the bus and front passenger door so it couldn’t be closed. It was about 12:15 p.m. then.

After about two hours, when police left food and a cell phone at the bus door, Baumgartner shoved Gibson and got off the bus. At 9:25 p.m., police deployed an explosive breaching device, pepper spray and tear gas, and Gibson left the bus with his gun still on board.

Baumgartner has since died of natural causes.

Clague, the prosecutor, acknowledged the mental health issues and said Gibson’s only prior offense was a misdemeanor in 2008. But he said the offenses were very serious and 749 days had passed since the hijacking.

The sentence struck a balance between punishment and rehabilitation, Clague said, and Gibson would still be under probation supervision when the 10-year term was up.

Sheehy argued for a shorter term, telling Krueger that medications had gotten his client’s delusions under control. Gibson himself said he was receiving extensive counseling at the state hospital.

Sheehy said Gibson disputes some accounts of what happened that day but admitted to pointing a gun at the driver, which is assault with a weapon.

Still, he said, “I don’t believe Mr. Gibson will ever be back before this court again.”

Clague responded by saying, “We would like to make that more certain than a mere belief,” and urged Krueger to impose the longer sentence.

Krueger did that, saying he had taken Gibson’s “serious mental illness” into account.

“This has been a very difficult case for everyone involved,” he said.

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