FORSYTH — A 25-year-old Forsyth man was sentenced on Tuesday for causing the deaths of his cousin and two other men last year in a car crash.
Rosebud County District Judge Gary Day sentenced Matthew Scott Bustle to 35 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with 25 years suspended, for three counts of negligent homicide.
He also ordered Bustle to pay nearly $40,000 in restitution to the families of Kiever Rogers, 21; Lance Nass, 19; and Christopher Gulden, 20, who died last December when the car Bustle was driving crashed into a creek in Rosebud County.
The judge also recommended he participate in treatment and rehabilitation programs.
In September, Bustle admitted that he was using alcohol and marijuana before the crash, in which he drove around warning signs before the car went off of a washed-out bridge and into a creek. Authorities said Rogers, Nass and Gulden drowned in the car. All four had been at a party prior to the crash.
Appearing in court in a wheelchair, a tearful Bustle apologized to the families of the victims and said he hopes to be able to use his mistakes as a way to teach people about the dangers of alcohol.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. I’m lost.”
Family members of Gulden and Rogers attended the sentencing, while a court official read a statement from Nass’ mother, who could not attend.
Prepared statements from the mothers of Nass and Gulden both said the deaths have “torn a hole in my heart.”
Jamie Gulden told Bustle that she doesn’t think he’s a bad person but that the families believe he hasn’t told the whole story yet about the crash that killed her brother and two other men.
“The worst part about it is not knowing,” she said. “How can you move on from that?”
Before Day handed down the sentence, Tom Fulton, a Montana Probation and Parole officer, said Bustle told him that he doesn’t drink often but that he’s been “using marijuana pretty regularly since he was 7 years old.”
A plea agreement between Rosebud County Attorney Michael Hayworth and Bustle’s public defender, Randi Hood, called for 40 years in the Montana State Prison with 30 suspended in exchange for his guilty pleas.
At the sentencing, Hood argued for a lesser sentence, saying previous cases had similar punishments and that, while Bustle is very sorry — even possibly suicidal — over the crash, treatment and rehabilitation are more important to getting him on the right track.
“He is a young man,” she said. “He is a man that has very significant chemical dependency problems that he takes very seriously, finally.”
Both Hayworth and Day said that no degree of punishment will make right or fully explain the deaths of three young men, but also agreed that Bustle could benefit from rehab programs.
“I can’t stand here and say that it’s adequate but it does offer an opportunity for a better outcome that hopefully Mr. Bustle can earn,” Hayworth said.
During his statement to the victims’ families and the courtroom, Bustle read a prayer that he said he wrote after the crash, which said that he has “no words to express the amount of remorse and shame” that he feels.
In response, Day said he doesn’t doubt that Bustle is remorseful, but that his actions over the next 30 or 40 years will show whether or not that feeling is genuine.
“Remorse in a courtroom is sort of like religion in a foxhole,” Day said. “Everybody seems to have it.”