BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A man driving the wrong way on a Vermont interstate before he crashed into a car, killing five teenagers, pleaded not guilty Friday to five counts of second-degree murder as he recovers in a hospital from his injuries in last week’s wreck.
Steven Bourgoin, 36, of Williston, was wheeled into a conference room at the University of Vermont Medical Center by a state trooper and health care worker. He made no comments during the proceeding. His lawyer entered the pleas for him.
The judge ordered a competency hearing and 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.
Police say Bourgoin, while driving the wrong way last Saturday night on Interstate 89, hit the teens’ car and then stole a police cruiser. He then turned around and sped the wrong way again on the interstate back toward the crash, hitting at least seven other vehicles, police say.
Chittenden County prosecutor T.J. Donovan said Bourgoin displayed “a wanton disregard” for human life, driving about 5 miles the wrong way as motorists honked at him to stop. Donovan said Bourgoin was driving 79 mph when he hit the teenagers’ car and 107 mph when he hit the other vehicles while driving the police cruiser.
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.
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 were Harwood Union High School juniors; the fifth attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.
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.
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. But the prosecutor said Friday it’s unclear whether the Howard Center had been called.
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.