Yellowstone County Sheriff's Deputy David Briese was remembered Thursday as a loyal officer with a big laugh who died while doing a job he loved.
About 1,200 people gathered at the MetraPark Expo Center for a public memorial service that included hundreds of law enforcement personnel from around the state. After the service, a motorcade of about 300 patrol vehicles with lights flashing traveled from Billings to the Rockvale Cemetery south of Laurel, where mourners paid a final tribute to Briese.
"He did his job," a somber Sheriff Chuck Maxwell said during the memorial service. "He was devoted to his family. He made a difference. Our hearts are broken. We will miss him."
Fellow deputies and friends remembered Briese for his physical stature and his unique laugh that they said was a reflection of his friendly disposition. Sgt. Kent O'Donnell, who was Briese's direct supervisor, told the crowd of his recent conversation with a former county jail inmate who met Briese when the deputy worked as a detention officer. The man said Briese was "one of the nicest jailers he'd ever met," O'Donnell said.
Briese, 38, died the morning of Nov. 3 when his patrol car went off Interstate 90 near King Avenue West. Briese was responding to a call for backup from another deputy when Briese's patrol car left the highway at a high speed and hit a fence and sign post.
Investigators with the Montana Highway Patrol said Briese may have tried to avoid a collision with a merging vehicle while passing another vehicle. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.
Briese was a county deputy for the past five years. He began his career in law enforcement in 1995 when he was hired as a detention officer at the county jail. He worked for one year as a deputy in Big Horn County then joined the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office in 2001.
Briese is survived by a wife, a stepdaughter and two sons.
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At the cemetery, the burial service included an honor guard of sheriff's deputies who presented Briese's mother, Joanne Briese, and his two sons, Justin and Joshua, with U.S. flags. A detail of Montana Highway Patrol troopers fired a three-volley salute into a gray and raining sky. A bugler played taps, followed by a last radio check made over a patrol car loudspeaker.
"It's been a hard week," Sheriff's Chaplain Samuel Kinser told those gathered at the Expo Center before leading the crowd in prayer and reading Briese's obituary.
County Commissioner John Ostlund, a friend of Briese's family, described Briese as a practical joker with a distinctive laugh who was both loyal and strong.
"Dave had strength in every sense of the word," Ostlund said.
O'Donnell, Briese's supervisor, shared other stories of the deputy and mentioned his favorite tools, a shovel and a sledgehammer. Briese called the sledgehammer his "universal key."
True to his profession and fellow officers, Briese died while responding to a call for help, O'Donnell said.
"Dave did not lose his life," the sheriff's sergeant told the audience. "Dave chose to give his life, to you, to me and to this community."