The mother and wife of a man accused of stealing a tractor and driving it through downtown Denver say they repeatedly called police for help in the hours leading up to the incident.
“I called 911 and I said, ‘Please, my son is very ill. He’s hallucinating. He’s paranoid. He needs help,’” Thomas Busch’s mother, Amber, said. “He scared me. I was trying to get him to the hospital… I thought something horrible is going to happen.”
Denver Police allege Busch, 37, went on a multi-jurisdictional crime spree July 20. He faces 23 charges stemming from allegations he stole a Jeep and a truck, attempted to steal a 20-ton front loader, bit a police dog and led police on a low-speed chase through downtown Denver while riding a stolen tractor.
But before Thomas Busch allegedly committed that first crime, he called his mother.
“He said, ‘Please come get me. I need help,’” Amber said. The Denver Post isn’t using the mother’s last name, at her request, due to concerns it could affect her employment.
Amber said he called about 3 p.m. to tell her he was walking along Colfax Avenue near the Colorado Mills Mall. His mother made him promise he’d go to the hospital before she would agree to pick him up.
During the preceding weeks, her son’s behavior had grown increasingly erratic and unsettling, Amber said. His wife, Jessica Busch, agreed.
“He started making accusations that weren’t based in reality,” Jessica Busch said.
He sprayed ant repellent all over his truck because he believed he saw spiders inside. He insisted he was being followed. He thought his wife and mother were trying to hurt him.
“He started talking about purging and asked whether I was going to purge him,” Amber said.
Both women were frightened.
“We have a baby and I didn’t want that around,” said Jessica Busch, who is 30 weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child.
At first they wanted Thomas Busch to enter a rehabilitation facility because they suspected he was using drugs again. But by the afternoon of July 20, the two women were working to have him placed in a hospital on an emergency mental health hold, known as a M1 Hold.
Amber first called Commerce City Police about her son the evening before the incident.
Commander Dennis Flynn said officers tried to talk to Thomas Busch outside his mother’s home on July 19, but he drove away.
“Unless it’s a violent felony, we do not pursue,” Flynn said. “It’s that same frustration” of how to help people who don’t seem to want it. The officers who tried to talk to him didn’t get the chance to see whether Thomas Busch posed an immediate risk to himself or others.
Both women told The Denver Post that they each called 911 twice on Friday and asked for help getting Thomas Busch to a hospital.
Committing someone against their will to a hospital on an emergency mental health hold is a difficult and cumbersome process. There’s no guarantee that a 72-hour hold will lead to recovery. Data from Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health shows dozens of people have been placed on six or more mental health holds in a year.
“An M1 Hold just gets a person in front of a doctor,” Flynn said. “If they don’t present with those same symptoms, the doctor has no choice but to let them go.”
Jessica Busch said the dispatchers she spoke to told her to have her mother-in-law call 911 because Amber was the person going to get Thomas Busch.
“I feel like I was totally ignored,” Jessica Busch said.
She called her mother-in-law and told her to pull over and call 911. Amber did that and said she got a Denver dispatcher who sent her to another agency who told her they would send someone.
The Denver Police Department and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann‘s office denied requests from The Denver Post for audio recordings of these 911 calls because of the ongoing investigation. Both agencies refused to confirm they received the 911 calls, saying any such communication would be considered evidence.
Cell phone records provided by Thomas Busch’s mother show two 911 calls placed on July 20. Amber said she called 911 back after she picked her up son.
“He said, ‘Can’t you see them? They’re everywhere; they’re following us,’” Amber said. “I started crying. He started crying… I ended up jumping out of the car at a stop light.”
Officers from the Lakewood Police Department responded, but Thomas Busch had run away by the time they got there, officials said.
“I was hysterical,” Amber admitted.
Lakewood Police Commander Mark Reeves said his department didn’t have a record of Amber’s first 911 call, but they received multiple phone calls for a disturbance at Colfax Avenue and Kipling Street around 5 p.m.
He could confirm that officers talked with members of Thomas Busch’s family, but he didn’t know the details.
“He was no longer on scene … ,” Reeves said. “In general to place an M1 Hold we’ve got to be there to assess it and assess him.”
Lakewood Police began looking for a man around 5:30 p.m. that day after a driver reported someone matching Thomas Busch’s description allegedly stealing a Jeep. Thomas Busch has distinct tattoos that cover his arms and neck.
A Denver Police officer rammed a police car into the stolen tractor a little after 9 p.m. on July 20. Officers pulled Thomas Busch out of the tractor’s cab, officials said.
“This could have been prevented, this tractor thing,” Amber said.
Thomas Busch’s wife and mom think he cracked under the pressure of providing for his growing family. The women think the pressure pushed him to stop taking his medication — Thomas said he’s been diagnosed for about 10 years with anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD from a traumatic childhood — and turn back to drugs as a way to cope.
Thomas Busch was in jail for her last ultrasound and he likely won’t be there when the baby is born.
He’s been a good dad, she said.
“What I would really like society to know is it’s not him,” Jessica Busch said. “He’s a genuine, humble good-hearted man when he’s taking his medication.”