Families of five Vermont teenagers who died in a crash with a wrong-way driver in 2016 expressed gratitude and relief Wednesday, after hearing a Burlington jury return guilty verdicts for the man who killed them.
“At least he’s not going to hurt anybody else’s kids now, and that makes a difference to me,” Sarah Zschau, the mother of Cyrus Zschau, said of convicted murderer Steven Bourgoin.
Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston, Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston, Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown, and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown were killed on Interstate 89 in Williston in October 2016 as they headed home from a concert.
Childhood friends, Brookens, Hale, Harris, and Zschau attended Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, and Chase Cozzi was a student at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.
“I can move beyond focusing on my son Eli’s death, and go on and focus on his life and the beautiful person that he was,” Colleen Ovelman, Eli Brookens’ mother, said after learning the verdict.
Steven Bourgoin of Williston now stands convicted of five counts of second -degree murder for driving the wrong way on the highway and crashing into the teens’ car. Prosecutors said he was in a rage from his failing finances and relationship.
Additionally, Bourgoin was convicted of a charge he stole a vehicle after the crash, and another charge that he drove recklessly.
“They were 15 and 16 years old, and had really incredible personalities, really big dreams—really impressive talents,” Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said of the crash victims. “And it was all taken from them by one person.”
“At this time, we would ask you to refocus the energy toward the incredible young people whose lives were needlessly and tragically taken from us, and them,” Sue Hale, the mother of Liam Hale, asked of the general community, following more than two weeks of high-profile media attention on Bourgoin’s trial.
Jurors did not buy the defense claim that Bourgoin was insane at the time of the crash. His attorneys are planning an appeal.
“Steven is disappointed,” lead defense attorney Bob Katims said after the verdict came in. “We respect the verdict, but we’re disappointed.”
The mother of Mary Harris, who was holding photos of her daughter and Janie Chase Cozzi, whom she described as being like a daughter to her, asked all Vermonters to “love like Mary” in the kids’ memory—urging them to treat their friends and neighbors like gold.
“I ask you to be kind,” Elizabeth Harris said, reading from an essay Mary wrote shortly before her death. “Be compassionate. Be respectful. Be selfless—because without kindness, what is the point?”
No sentencing date has been set, but it’s likely to be late-summer.