Five dead teens, a stolen police car and the ‘most horrific’ crash in decades

  • This Oct. 11, 2016 photo shows a memorial set up at a high school in Duxbury, Vermont, that lost four students in a fiery crash that police say was caused by a wrong-way driver. The four Harwood Union High School juniors and a girl who attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, were killed early Sunday when police say the car they were riding in was hit by a wrong-way driver and burst into flames. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke) Lisa Rathke

  • Photo by Stefan Hard/Times ArgusHundreds of the roughly 1,000 who turned out to attend a candlelight vigil for the vicitims of a Saturday night car crash can be seen gathered on a Harwood Union High School soccer field Monday in a photo taken from the Duxbury, Vermont school's third floor. Four enrolled students at Harwood were killed in the crash with a wrong-way driver, the fifth victim lived in the Harwood catchment area but attended a private school in New Hampshire. Stefan Hard

  • In this still image from video provided by WCAX-TV, workers remove vehicles from Interstate 89 early Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Williston, Vt., after a wrong-way driver caused a crash just before midnight that killed multiple people, before stealing a police cruiser, striking several vehicles and injuring several people. (WCAX-TV via AP)

  • In this still image from video provided by WCAX-TV, a worker attaches a wrecker cable to a vehicle on Interstate 89 early Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Williston,Vt., after a wrong-way driver caused a crash just before midnight that killed multiple people, before stealing a police cruiser, striking several vehicles and injuring several people. (WCAX-TV via AP)

The Washington Post
Published: 10/12/2016 9:58:27 AM

The first 911 call came at 11:43 p.m. Saturday, a report from a concerned motorist about a Toyota truck barreling down Interstate 89 on the wrong side of the road.

More calls followed, and more after that.

Vermont state and local police dispatched cruisers, hoping to intercept the erratic driver, to stop the truck before a crash did.

They drove alongside motorists who couldn’t possibly know the danger speeding toward them and carloads of people they had no way of warning.

Among them was a Volkswagen Jetta carrying five teenagers barely old enough to drive.

Minutes later, at 11:53 p.m., police received another 911 call.

This time, it was about a crash.

The first police officer on scene in Williston found two crumpled vehicles in the road – a Toyota truck and a Volkswagen Jetta. The Jetta was engulfed in flames.

In a desperate attempt to save the teenagers trapped inside, the officer grabbed a fire extinguisher and rushed toward the blaze, according to the Vermont State Police. He pulled one young girl from the car and tried to suppress the flames.

Then he watched this scene in disbelief: His police cruiser – the red and blue emergency lights still activated – was speeding away from the wreckage. Behind the wheel sat a man, later identified as Steven D. Bourgoin, 36, the apparent owner of the wrong way truck.

By the night’s end, Bourgoin had not only hijacked the officer’s car, but dodged police custody while fleeing the scene, hitting at least seven other cars while driving the wrong way along Interstate 89, according to authorities.

His spree ended only when he crashed the police cruiser for a final time, police said, ejecting himself from the car before it, too, burst into flames.

He was rushed to the hospital alongside five other people, police said, who are reported to be in stable condition.

All five teenagers – friends since childhood on their way home from a concert – were killed.

Vermont State Police identified the victims as Mary Harris, 16, and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Liam Hale, 16, and Janie Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury.

The catastrophe stunned communities across the state. Four of the teens were juniors at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, reported the Associated Press. Cozzi studied at Kimball Union Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire, but had returned home to Vermont for the long weekend.

Firefighters who responded to the crash called it “the most horrific scene they have seen in their 10 to 15 years,” Williston Senior Firefighter Prescott Nadeau told CNN.

Athletic events were cancelled at both schools Monday and the state’s gubernatorial debate was postponed so the candidates could attend a vigil for the students.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff.

“You know I’ve had the privilege of being governor for six years,” Shumlin told WCAX. “And this is the saddest moment.”

At a press conference Monday, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan called the fatal crash an “unspeakable tragedy” and announced his office’s plans to arrest Bourgoin, who remained hospitalized in critical condition, on charges related to stealing the police cruiser and driving it recklessly. His bail was set at $1 million.

He has not, however, been charged with the teenagers’ deaths.

The investigation, classified as a homicide case, is active and ongoing, Donovan said. Though Bourgoin is the main suspect in the wrong way crash that killed the five teenagers, the prosecutor said his office is still “piecing everything together.”

The Toyota truck was registered to the father of Bourgoin’s ex-girlfriend, authorities said. In court records obtained by Seven Days, the father said he co-signed for the vehicle, but that it belonged to Bourgoin.

“We want to make sure this investigation is done in a thorough manner,” Donovan said, “that we answer all our questions before we file that charge.”

Bourgoin has another open domestic assault and unlawful restraint case pending against him from an incident this spring. A police affidavit obtained by WCAX alleged that Bourgoin threatened to throw his then-girlfriend down the stairs and bash her head on the ground. The woman told Williston Police that Bourgoin hit her, WCAX reported, and kept her from leaving the house with the couple’s two-year-old child.

When she tried to escape, Bourgoin allegedly jumped in the driver’s seat and held the woman and child hostage while he drove around. She also accused him of pulling a lanyard around her neck and saying that he would “kill both of them before he let his child go.”

Authorities did not say during the press conference Monday if Bourgoin had contact with the woman or child the day of the crash.

He did, however, seek “some sort of medical treatment” from the University of Vermont Medical Center Saturday, Donovan said.

The hospital, located in Burlington, contacted the Howard Center, a mental health provider, “but Mr. Bourgoin was not seen by the UVM medical staff or the Howard Center staff on that Saturday,” Donovan said.

An affidavit obtained by Seven Days said that the center was “called but did not screen” Bourgoin, reported the newspaper. He was “seen” by a physician’s assistant, it said.

In the spring, when the alleged domestic assault was reported, Bourgoin’s then-girlfriend told police that “when he gets in his moods, he does not think clearly, and has no regard for those around him, even loved ones,” reported Seven Days.

“When Steven is in these moods, it is usually because he ran out of marijuana which he used to stabilize his mood swings,” the woman said.

Bourgoin is a warehouse associate at Lake Champlain Chocolates, reported the Valley News.

At the press conference, Donovan said that prosecuting this case was his office’s “top priority.”

Nearly 1,000 people gathered Monday night at Harwood Union High School to mourn the five teens killed in the crash, reported WCAX. That day, the creamery where one student worked handed out free soft-serve ice cream. The Harwood Union boys soccer team cancelled their game, but gathered on the field anyway, just to be together.

Two of the teens killed were on the team.

“We’re just trying to remember all the good memories of them, doing what they would have wanted us to do, come out here and play soccer,” Harwood soccer player Mason Lemery, 16, told the Valley News.

At the vigil, the mass of students released paper lanterns in the sky and wept.

Darrell Mays’, the uncle of Mary Harris, spoke to the gathered students.

“Live a great life,” he said. “That’s what you can do for your friends who died.”


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