Accused Wrong-Way Driver Denies 5 Murder Charges After Vermont Crash

Police say 36-year-old Steven Bourgoin crashed into the teens' car in Williston and then stole a police cruiser before crashing it

Prosecutors said a man driving the wrong direction on a Vermont highway acted with complete disregard for human life before he crashed into an oncoming car, killing five teenagers. The attorney for Steven D. Bourgoin, 36, of Williston, entered a not guilty plea on his client's behalf to five counts of second-degree murder.

Bourgoin is at the University of Vermont Medical Center recovering from injuries he suffered in the crash.

Bourgoin appeared before Judge James Crucitti in a rolling hospital bed. A conference room at the hospital was transformed into a temporary courtroom for the hearing, complete with court security officers and other officials.

"The state believes that Mr. Bourgoin exhibited an extreme indifference to human life," Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan told reporters after the arraignment.

The judge ordered a competency hearing, after a request from defense attorney Bob Katims.

"I have a good faith basis to believe he's not competent," Katims later told reporters.

Judge Crucitti agreed with the prosecutor's request that Bourgoin be held without bail. If convicted, Bourgoin would face 20 years to life in prison on each murder count.

Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Janie Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, died in the crash. Four of the childhood friends were Harwood Union High School juniors; Cozzi attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.

Friday afternoon, a large crowd of employees from the National Life Group as well as others from the community wore black and gold, the Harwood school colors, and walked through the streets of downtown Montpelier to honor the students. The group paused for a moment of silence to remember the teenagers.

"It's obviously a tragedy that's taken place, and we just want to be there for the families," said Sam Brigham, a participant in the walk.

"We have their back," Dana Bean, another marcher, said of the crash victims' families. "They're not doing this alone. The message is that Vermont cares. We're all one community."

A National Life spokesman said the company donated $10,000 to a new memorial fund that is supporting the victims' families with immediate needs, such as funeral costs. Other participants in Friday's walk donated to the effort, as well.

Investigators said Bourgoin, while driving the wrong way last Saturday night on Interstate 89, hit the teens' car in a pickup truck, and later stole a police cruiser when a responding officer was tending to the young crash victims. He then turned around and again sped the wrong way on the interstate back toward the crash, hitting at least seven other vehicles, police said.

State's Attorney Donovan said Bourgoin displayed "a wanton disregard" for human life, driving about five miles the wrong way as motorists honked at him trying to get him to stop. Donovan said Bourgoin was driving 79 mph when he hit the teenagers' car and later, 107 mph when he hit the other vehicles while driving the police cruiser.

In court paperwork, police wrote that one witness described Bourgoin going 80-90 mph before the initial crash.

Authorities are awaiting the results of toxicology tests on Bourgoin, but Donovan has said they have no evidence he was drunk at the time. Bourgoin told a witness at the scene of the first crash that he must have lost control and that he didn't know what happened, Donovan said.

Court documents filed in support of the charges say a search of Bourgoin's home found he was facing foreclosure on his home and other financial difficulties, as well as legal proceedings for domestic issues and a custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend over their 2-year-old daughter. He recently left his job, Donovan said.

Donovan declined to speculate as to whether Bourgoin was suicidal that night, citing the ongoing investigation. He said Bourgoin has not yet been questioned by investigators.

A police officer who responded to the first crash told a state police investigator that Bourgoin has post-traumatic stress disorder but the officer did not elaborate. Bourgoin served in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning in Georgia between August 1999 and November 1999.

Police said in an affidavit that Bourgoin had visited a hospital emergency room hours before the deadly mayhem, saw a physician assistant and someone called the Howard Center, which provides crisis and counseling services, but the center didn't screen Bourgoin. The prosecutor said Friday it's unclear whether the Howard Center had been called.

The investigation remains open, and Donovan described it as the top priority for his office, the Vermont State Police, and the people of Vermont.

Bourgoin also faces trial on an unrelated domestic assault charge involving his ex-girlfriend, prosecutors said. A police affidavit says Bourgoin hit his girlfriend in the head and threatened to throw her down the stairs in May. Prosecutors said a court awarded custody of the child last month to the ex-girlfriend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Us