On Wednesday morning, Brian Bersuch got into the driver’s seat of his Jefferson Lines bus, just as he has day in and day out for years working for the company. The Billings-based driver was about to embark on the home stretch of his route to Spokane and back, with stops in various cities along the way.
He had no idea where he actually would end up: behind the wheel of a hijacked bus, driving through the streets of Butte.
It began as a quiet day, Bersuch recalls. Many of the normal bus routes were cancelled due to weather, so there were only a handful of local riders, he said. Three people were on the bus when he left Spokane, Washington; one person hopped on in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and everyone who was aboard after that got off in Missoula.
“Thank God all four got off in Missoula,” said Bersuch, who has worked for Jefferson Lines for the past three years consecutively and for six years total.
At the Missoula bus transfer station, Bersuch noticed a man pacing back and forth in the parking lot.
That man was Dane Anthony Gibson, a 52-year-old from Spokane.
Bersuch approached Gibson and asked where he was going.
“He seemed like a nice enough guy,” Bersuch said. “He told me a story about wanting to go to Great Falls to see his daughter and was trying to get a ticket purchased over the phone.”
Bersuch entered the Missoula station and talked to the manager for a little bit. A passenger headed to Butte was sitting inside, and the man in the parking lot soon came in to buy a ticket to Butte as well, since he didn’t have enough money to make it all the way to Great Falls, Bersuch said.
At about 10:45 a.m., Bersuch and his two passengers got on the bus and headed east. The three men talked for a while about how beautiful it was outside, admiring the ice crystals on the trees as they passed.
When they were close to Rocker, Gibson asked Bersuch if his mom could buy a ticket for him over the phone with her credit card. Bersuch explained that he couldn’t sell tickets from the bus, but he could give him the number to the Butte bus transfer station or Gibson could wait to purchase the ticket there.
Gibson returned to his seat, just one row back from Bersuch on the bus’s passenger side. Although it’s hard to hear sometimes from the driver’s seat, Bersuch said he could hear the man “rustling around a million miles an hour.”
All of a sudden, Gibson allegedly said to Bersuch, "You know, I really like you. … I really like you, but you’re not going home today," Bersuch recalls hearing. He asked Gibson what he meant. Bersuch then says he heard Gibson say, "I have a bomb and a gun and you’re not going to live today."
“It didn’t hit me at first, I honestly almost started laughing. … I guess it’s a situation your mind doesn’t want you to believe you’re in,” Bersuch said.
By this time, Bersuch and the bus had taken Butte’s City Center exit. Bersuch said he was using the bus’s large windshield as a mirror to see what the man behind him was doing.
“I looked in the windshield and could see a gun. I thought, ‘This is real,’” Bersuch said.
As he grew nervous, Bersuch said he also started thinking about what he could do.
Pulling into Butte, Gibson approached Bersuch again. He asked if he could go to the courthouse, Bersuch said, but Bersuch wasn’t very familiar with Butte and didn’t really know where the courthouse was. He remembers hearing the man say, "I want you to take me to the courthouse, and I know who I need to talk to."
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“I asked him if he knew where the courthouse was, and he said no,” Bersuch recalls. “At that point, I thought, 'If he doesn’t know where the courthouse is, I can tell him it’s by the bus transfer station.' … The Civic Center is the only big building in Butte I really know of or could think of at the time.”
Bersuch knew that the big parking lot behind Butte’s bus transfer station was usually empty, so he pulled in there and said the Civic Center was the courthouse. Gibson reportedly told him to park.
“I put the bus in neutral, pulled the brake, lowered the bus down, and turned around. I could see a switch taped to his left hand … and a small pistol in the other,” Bersuch said.
Bersuch asked the man's permission to stand up, and the man reportedly said, "That’s fine."
As Bersuch stood up, the second passenger, who had moved to the very back of the bus, started to make his way forward. Bersuch said he didn’t think this passenger, Dameane Baumgartner, had heard anything from before. (See related story.)
Gibson spun his gun on Baumgartner, who screamed, Bersuch said. This is when Bersuch locked the bus door open, walked off with his phone, and went toward the back of the bus.
“The guy leaned out to follow me and was spooked by a cop car that was nonchalantly driving by, but I saw he had his gun pointed at me through the window,” Bersuch said. “All I really knew at that point is I didn’t want to die.”
Bersuch said in that moment he also decided he wasn’t going to let the man steal the bus. But as he opened the bus panel in the back, his brain froze and he forgot how to shut the bus down. He called his supervisor in Billings, who helped him remember to “hit the kill switch.”
“I wanted to make sure that bus didn’t move an inch,” Bersuch said. “If he figured out how to drive it, that’s a big piece of equipment moving down the road. I wanted to keep it contained to the Civic Center parking lot.”
As previously reported, Sheriff Ed Lester commended Bersuch's ability to "think on his feet" during the Thursday media briefing. Lester credited Bersuch with starting the "success of the whole thing" by disabling the bus.
After Bersuch disabled the bus so it couldn’t move, he went inside the transfer station. When police arrived, he was moved into the command post, a motor-home-like station nearby, to assist law enforcement in diffusing the situation.
“They asked me how they could get inside and about the windows, which are double-paned,” Bersuch said. “All I wanted to do was go home, to go home and to be with my wife.”
While he was in the command post, Bersuch said his wife kept calling him in tears, which really upset him and still upsets him. But he said the nine hours he spent with a detective, another law enforcement official, and Sheriff Ed Lester made the situation a lot easier.
“They’re great people. … The law enforcement did a heck of a job. I would give them all 100 percent,” Bersuch said. “They made that day a whole lot easier to deal with. … It was the best experience out of a bad experience you could ask for.”
Bersuch said in the two days since the hours-long standoff, he’s gone through a lot of emotions. He gets angry but overall feels extremely happy to still be here.
“I guess you don’t realize how short your life can be, especially when it’s in someone else’s hands,” Bersuch said over the phone Friday from his home in Billings.
And he is set to drive his route to Spokane again Saturday morning, just as he has before.
“I can’t think of another job I would want to do in Billings. … I’ve met a lot of really good people on the bus, and the bus has been really good to me,” Bersuch said. “This is something I’ll always carry with me, but it won’t change my outlook on anything. It was just one bad apple.”