BURLINGTON, Vt.—A Vermont jury on May 22 found a wrong-way driver who claimed he was on a secret mission guilty of murder in the deaths of five teenagers killed on an interstate highway.
The jury’s verdict against Steven Bourgoin came on the second day of deliberations following a two-week trial. Bourgoin, 38, had pleaded not guilty to five counts of second-degree murder and other charges. He faces 20-years to life in prison on each count.
Defense attorneys acknowledged that Bourgoin caused the October 2016 crash but said he was insane at the time. Jurors rejected that claim.
Chittenden County State’s attorney Sarah George said she was grateful “for such a diligent and thoughtful jury” and for the bravery and courage of parents and families of the victims who attended the court proceedings.
“I want the community to know that these were children, they were kids, they were high school students. They were 15 and 16 years old and had really incredible personalities, really big dreams, really impressive talents and it was all taken from them by one person,” George told reporters.
The crash killed 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. Four of the teenagers attended Harwood Union High School in Duxbury. Cozzi attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.
After the verdict, one by one, parents held up photos of their child and gave statements to the media.
“We’d like it to be about the kids now and no more about Steven Bourgoin,” Sarah Zschau said.
Colleen Ovelman said she is relieved to put this part of the tragedy behind her “so I can move beyond focusing on my son Eli’s death and go to focus on his life and the beautiful person that he was.”
During the trial, psychiatrists said that in the days leading up to the crash, Bourgoin thought he was on a secret mission, believing he was in danger and thinking he was getting inferences from lights, radios and television static about what to do.
Prosecutors countered that Bourgoin was troubled at the time of the crash, grappling with custody, relationship and financial issues, but his condition did not meet the legal definition of being insane.
They outlined how Bourgoin left his home that night, got onto Interstate 89 going south and then turned around, approaching 90 mph going north in the southbound lane. He collided with the car that carried the teenagers in Williston.
After the initial crash, Bourgoin allegedly stole a Williston police cruiser and again headed south on the interstate before turning around and crashing again into vehicles at the original crash scene.
Bourgoin was seriously injured and initially arraigned at the hospital.
Defense attorney Robert Katims said there would be an appeal.
“We think we presented the overwhelming medical evidence with regard to the sanity issue and we’re disappointed that the jury found otherwise,” he said, calling the case “incredibly difficult.”
“And I think the jury spending over a day and a half or so on deliberations proves that it was an incredibly difficult case,” he said.
By Lisa Rathke