By Marla Prell
The sole survivor of a car accident in Rosebud County that claimed the lives of three local men last year has been charged with three counts of negligent homicide.
Rosebud County Attorney Michael Hayworth filed felony charges Wednesday in Rosebud County Justice Court against Matthew Scott Bustle, 25.
If convicted on all three counts, the maximum sentence for Bustle would be 60 years in prison – 20 years on each count – or a fine of $150,000 - $50,000 on each count - or both. Bond is set at $150,000.
Court records state that in the early hours of December 19, 2011, Bustle was driving his 1999 Plymouth Breeze on Route 445 at the location of the washed-out Sand Creek bridge near Rosebud. Passengers in the vehicle were Kiever Rogers, 21, Lance Nass, 19, and Christopher Gulden, 20. The charges state that Bustle negligently caused the deaths of all three men because he “drove the vehicle around warnings that the bridge was washed out, including large construction equipment parked in the driving lane. As a result of the Defendant's negligence, the vehicle plunged off the washed-out bridge and into water.”
Records state, “Based on the autopsy findings, each of these individuals died of asphyxiation from aspiration of muddy water when the vehicle wrecked in the creek.”
The vehicle landed upside down in the mud.
It is believed the crash occurred at about 2 a.m., but the wreckage was not discovered until shortly before 8 a.m. A nearby resident's children saw the vehicle on the way to school but were not able to call him until they reached the school. Randy Kraus told the Independent Press that he arrived on scene and called out to see if anyone was in the car, and he heard someone yell back, "Yes, help me."
He said it appeared that the car launched over the creek, hit the bank on the other side and fell backward onto its top. He and other residents rolled the car over, after which responders arrived and cut the mangled door open to tend to its occupants.
Bustle, who was in critical condition, was flown to Billings for treatment.
Records state that law enforcement observations of injuries to all four men and circumstantial evidence led officials to determine that Bustle was driving.
The three victims reportedly suffered injuries consistent with seatbelt use, but Bustle did not. Injuries to his face were consistent with contact with the windshield glass. He also had a circular bruise on his chest consistent with impact with the steering wheel.
Rogers and Gulden were still belted in when their bodies were removed, but Bustle and Nass were not restrained when law enforcement arrived. However, Nass's belt showed signs of use during the crash.
Documents state, “Based on witness accounts and the physical evidence it is believed that Matthew Scott Bustle's use of alcohol and/or marijuana may have been a contributing factor in the crash.”
Through interviews, law enforcement learned that Bustle and the three men were at a party in Rosebud County immediately prior to the crash, and a partygoer described use of alcohol and marijuana by individuals including Bustle. The witness reportedly was able to describe the two Southern Comfort bottles recovered from the Bustle vehicle after the crash.
According to court records, medical personnel removing Bustle's clothing found a beer can and suspected illegal drugs and paraphernalia and gave the items to law enforcement. Items that were bagged pending a search warrant included a can of beer, two bags of suspected marijuana and Bustle's medical marijuana card.
Blood was drawn from Bustle at about 10 a.m., approximately eight hours after the suspected time of the crash. The sample was not positive for alcohol, but it was positive for chemicals indicating marijuana use.
Published March 14, 2012