DUXBURY, Vt. (AP) — The halls of a high school that lost four students in a fiery crash over the weekend were quiet Tuesday as classes resumed for the first time since a driver traveling the wrong way on an interstate slammed into the students’ car, killing five teens altogether.
A memorial space was set up at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, and students and staff will be given the space and time they need to cope with the tragedy, said Superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease.
“The community is in a very serious grieving process. Losing any student ever is horrific. Losing five students, there are no words to express that level of grief,” Scheffert Nease said.
She said school districts from across Vermont were offering counselors and therapists to help the Harwood community. The school’s crisis team was helping both students and staff cope with the losses.
The four Harwood juniors and a girl who grew up with them but went to high school in New Hampshire died late Saturday when the car they were riding in was hit by a wrong-way driver and burst into flames.
The teenagers who died were 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.
Police say Steven Bourgoin was driving the pickup truck that crashed into their vehicle, sending it up in flames. After a police officer who arrived on the scene tried to extinguish the fire, Bourgoin jumped into the officer’s cruiser and took off, state police said.
When a Richmond police officer tried to stop him, Bourgoin turned the cruiser around and began heading north in a southbound lane, back toward the crash scene, hitting seven other vehicles along the way, authorities said. He was thrown from the cruiser, which then went up in flames, state police said.
Bourgoin was hospitalized in critical condition, but he was upgraded to serious condition Tuesday. He hasn’t yet been charged in the crash.
Chittenden County state’s attorney TJ Donovan raised questions about the motive for the crashes. When asked if the driver was trying to kill himself, he said he “would not classify what occurred on Interstate 89 as an accident.”
Bourgoin also faces trial on an unrelated domestic assault charge, prosecutors said.
A police affidavit says Bourgoin hit his girlfriend in the head and threatened to throw her down the stairs in May. Police say when she tried to leave with their 2-year-old child, Bourgoin got into the vehicle, drove them around and threatened to kill them. The now ex-girlfriend received custody of the child last month, prosecutors said.
It was unknown if Bourgoin has an attorney. A public defender representing him in the domestic violence case didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
All the students had played soccer, and on Monday the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams held informal practices.
Mason Lemery, 16, a Harwood soccer team member, said the loss of their classmates, teammates and friends had been “really hard.”
“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,” he said.
Classmates, teachers and staff held a candlelight vigil Monday night to honor the students who were killed. About 1,000 people attended. Many cried before releasing lanterns that floated off into the chilly night sky.
Darrell Mays, Mary’s uncle, thanked the community for supporting the family but said their grief was only just beginning to be felt. He urged the students left behind to honor their friends who died.
“Live a great life,” he said. “That’s what you can do for your friends who died.”