BURLINGTON — The long-awaited criminal trial of a Williston man charged with killing five Mad River Valley teenagers in a fiery wrong-way crash in 2016 is set to begin in late April.
Jury selection for Steven D. Bourgoin, 37, is due to start April 29 in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington. A courtroom at the Edward J. Costello Courthouse has been set aside by Judge Kevin Griffin for up to four weeks for the trial.
Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to five counts of second degree murder. If convicted, each homicide charge carries a possible sentence of 20 years to life.
He also has pleaded not guilty to single counts of driving a marked Williston police cruiser without consent and reckless driving.
Bourgoin’s court-appointed lawyer, Robert Katims, has indicated Bourgoin plans to use the insanity defense. Lawyers have said there are more than 100 potential witnesses, but that number is likely to get whittled down before trial.
Bourgoin was driving the wrong way at high speed on Interstate 89 in Williston and had high levels of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — in his blood system when he slammed into the teens about 11:50 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016, state police said.
Six hours after the crash, Bourgoin still had 10 nanograms of active THC in his blood, according to the official drug report first publicly released in November 2017 in response to a public records request by the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.
A state judge ordered a blood draw of Bourgoin because of the level of impairment he displayed at the scene, police said. Bourgoin also had lower amounts of other drugs, including Fentanyl, Norfentanyl and Midazolam, the report said.
Any level of THC in a driver in Vermont is against the law.
Court records also show Bourgoin’s girlfriend told investigators, among other things, that Bourgoin was a marijuana consumer and used it to try to control his anger. She said Bourgoin would get anxious when he ran out of the drug, the records show.
Bourgoin grew up with his brother in Rutland, where their father, Jack, served as the high school athletic director.
State police have estimated Bourgoin was driving at an estimated 79 miles per hour. The teens were trapped in the 2004 Volkswagen Jetta, which burst into flames, police said.
Bourgoin then stole a Williston Police cruiser from an officer who was attending to the injured, police said. He made a U-turn on I-89 when seeing police and returned at a high rate of speed to the crash site, officials said. He then demolished the Williston cruiser by running into the wreckage from the first crash at an estimated speed of 107 mph, police said.
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, died in the fiery crash.
The five teens were headed home after attending a concert at Higher Ground in South Burlington. Four victims were students at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, while Cozzi had transferred to Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. All were active in school activities, including sports.
Bourgoin, who was admitted to UVM Medical Center after the crash, was arraigned a few days later in a private conference room at the hospital. Since his discharge from the hospital, Bourgoin has been held in prison without bail.
State’s Attorney Sarah George and one of her deputies, Susan Hardin, have been handling the case.
Former Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan made the decision to charge Bourgoin with five homicide counts instead of five charges of driving under the influence of drugs with death resulting because of what he said was “wanton disregard” on the part of Bourgoin.
That decision has made the case more complicated and helped open the door for the use of an insanity defense.
The 30-month-old case is one of the oldest pending prosecutions in the 14 counties.
Griffin noted in an earlier hearing that jury trials just don’t happen, but plenty of planning is needed not just by lawyers, but by the court staff. The judge said there are plenty of logistics to handle, including finding a large pool of potential jurors and sending them preliminary questionnaires before jury selection day.
The Public Utility Commission has given the Department of Public Service until March 13 to investigate and report on a complaint filed against Otter Creek Solar.
On Jan. 30, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an environmental watchdog group, filed a comment with the Public Utility Commission accusing Otter Creek Solar LLC of violating its certificate of public good.
The Public Utility Commission is a governor-appointed board tasked with issuing certificates of public good — essentially operating permits — to power facilities. Otter Creek Solar, a subsidiary of Allco Renewable Energy, has a certificate of public good to build two solar facilities on a patch of land off Cold River Road. Site clearing work has been going there for several weeks.
Annette Smith, head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said in the comment to the Public Utility Commission that Otter Creek Solar violated the terms of its certificate by burning and selling wood from the site, improperly using the access road off Cold River Road, and not having a secured right of way off Windcrest Road — all things it told the Public Utility Commission it would have or would do, and all of which were included in the terms of the certificate.
On Feb. 20, the Public Utility Commission filed an order instructing the Department of Public Service to investigate Vermonters for a Clean Environment’s comment and inform the commission of the status of the investigation on or before March 13.
“Annette Smith’s complaints do not have merit, which we will be showing in our response that will be provided to DPS and the PUC,” said Thomas Melone, president and senior general counsel at Allco Renewable Energy Limited, in an email on Sunday.
“The Department of Public Service has contacted us,” he said in the email. “There is no violation of the CPG.”
Melone said the department didn’t provide documentation of this.
Megan Ludwig, special counsel for the Department of Public Service, who’s assigned to this matter, said in an email, “I can’t speak to the process of our investigation or speculate on what will happen after we respond to the PUC’s procedural order on March 13, but I can confirm that no one at the Department represented to Mr. Melone that there is no violation. That determination has not been made.”
“If there is no violation of the CPG, then the plans that are submitted are meaningless, since the project is being cleared in a manner that is not following the plans,” said Smith in an email on Monday. “I am not impressed with how the PUC and DPS have handled this. Feels like an ineffective game of ping pong, which is exactly what some people were concerned about when the legislature set up the DPS complaint process. It gives each entity the opportunity to punt to the other rather than doing something.”
SHAFTSBURY — Two Vermont State Police troopers returned to work Monday — 17 weeks after they were placed on paid leave for their handling of an off-duty Rutland trooper found passed out behind the wheel of his car behind a Bennington store.
State Troopers Thomas Stange and Benjamin Irwin, both assigned to the Shaftsbury barracks, were placed on paid administrative leave on Oct. 29.
Meanwhile, State Police Lt. Michael “Stu” Studin, who also was placed on paid leave the same day, remains out of work.
“Troopers Irwin and Stange have been reinstated to full duty as of today. There is no change in status for Studin,” State Police spokesman Adam Silverman said in response to an email Monday seeking an update in the cases.
Silverman offered no additional comments. He said previously that the three lawmen were facing investigations by the VSP Internal Affairs Office, which has a special law that allows its cases withheld from any public review.
It remains unclear if Studin’s case is directly or indirectly connected to the Irwin/Stange investigation.
When state troopers are placed on administrative leave, the department takes their police cruiser, firearms, badge, credentials, computer and other department property so they are unable to perform any police work.
The Irwin/Stange case began to unfold when they stopped at Cumberland Farms on Northside Drive in Bennington at about 6:30 a.m. Oct. 28 for an unrelated investigation. The store clerk mentioned a man was passed out behind the wheel of his car behind the store, records show.
Officials said when Irwin and Stange checked the car they found rookie Trooper Spencer Foucher behind the wheel. Foucher, who grew up in Bennington, joined the state police Jan. 16, 2018, and was assigned to the Rutland barracks.
Foucher opted to resign on Oct. 29. A probationary trooper can be dismissed anytime in the first 12 months without a hearing or being given a reason.
Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said based on the report provided by Vermont State Police there was not enough evidence to file any criminal charge.
“I reviewed the criminal case for potential charges and there is not going to be a charge out of my office,” Marthage said last fall. She said she believed there was a lack of sufficient evidence, and no alcohol breath test was requested.
Marthage said she asked for follow-up investigation, including information from the bar where Foucher was earlier, but that report did not generate enough evidence to proceed with a case.
Stange has been a state trooper since July 16, 2012, while Irwin was hired July 10, 2017.
Studin joined the Vermont State Police on July 14, 2003. He later became a senior trooper and was promoted to patrol sergeant at the Rockingham barracks on March 24, 2013. He was promoted to lieutenant and named station commander in Rutland County on Sept. 4, 2016.
Lt. Jeff Danowski, of the New Haven barracks, one of the department’s top station commanders, was shifted to Rutland to fill in while Studin is on paid leave. Sgt. Matthew Daley, of the New Haven barracks, is filling Danowski’s regular assignment.
MONTPELIER — Rebuilding infrastructure in Vermont was the theme of a discussion Monday at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns between mayors from across the state and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
Welch said he was working with Rep. Peter Alfazio, D-Oregon 4th District, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to put together a summary of major infrastructure issues for a bill that could propose spending up to $1.5 trillion. Welch said he expects the bill will receive wide bipartisan support and the signature of President Donald Trump, who touted infrastructure as a major part of his election campaign platform. Welch said he hoped a bill would be introduced in May.
“We have to have an infrastructure bill in Washington to help both the states and the municipalities address incredibly urgent and long-overdue and neglected infrastructure needs,” Welch said. “We know, and I certainly know, that we’ve got to get things done and infrastructure is job one.”
The message from mayors to Welch was uniformly similar, as municipalities struggle with aging infrastructure for water and sewer systems and federal and state mandates to upgrade combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems to reduce sewage spills in waterways and tackle water quality issues. Many cities are having to ask voters to approve bonds for expensive water treatment plant upgrades, including Montpelier ($16.75 million), Barre ($2.5 million) and Rutland ($7.2 million). The Montpelier bond was approved by voters in November, while the Barre and Rutland proposals will be decided on the ballot in March.
Only one municipality, Newport, had not had a CSO discharge, except for one instance that involved human error, in many years, Newport Mayor Paul Monette said.
Other major infrastructure issues for municipalities included crumbling roads and bridges, and the need to combine road repairs with underground water and sewer upgrades to reduce costs and avoid having to perform water and sewer line work after a road had been repaired.
Mayors also stressed the need for a build-out of high-speed internet and public transport services in rural areas to improve economic opportunities in Vermont. Welch said Alfazio supported the proposals in his own rural state as an important economic stimulus.
Welch referenced a series of water-main breaks in Montpelier that paralyzed parts of the city in recent weeks. They included a 12-inch water-main break at Elm and Spring streets that shut down all traffic on Route 2 during rush hour on Jan. 28; and five days later, on Feb. 2, an 8-inch main break on Nelson Street that sent water down Main Street that froze, again disrupting traffic through the city. In both cases, boil water notices were issued, asking people not to drink the water until tests showed it was safe.
“I just want to point out that Montpelier has spent about $3 million in the last three years on its water infrastructure and we continue to need to be making more repairs,” Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said.
Watson said the city has to replace several bridges over the next few years, including the Rialto Bridge on State Street across the North Branch River, although that project will be in planning for another two years.
Watson stressed the need to focus on population density in municipalities to reduce sprawl and demand for services and further infrastructure challenges. Energy efficiency in municipal buildings was also a priority for the city, she added.
Barre Mayor Lucas Herring said the city is asking voters in March to support a $2.5 million bond for water and wastewater upgrades and a second bond of $560,000 for infrastructure upgrades in city facilities.
“I think it’s something that is needed and that’s why we’ve have it as a bond,” Lucas said. “Moving forward, if we could have some matching funds from the federal level, it will help with the infrastructure problems that we have to work on.”
Rutland Mayor David Allaire said the city had put together a list of infrastructure projects that included sidewalks, street repairs, bridges, culverts, and water and sewer lines.
“It’s to address what we see as a $100 million ongoing replacement of all of our 125-year-old underground and sewer pipes, and we have been incrementally working on that,” Allaire said, adding that the city would be asking voters to approve a bond for a bridge repair and the wastewater upgrades.
Allaire said a list of projects and costs included sidewalks ($6.5 million), street repair and paving ($9 million), wastewater treatment plant ($7.2 million), bridges and culverts ($4 million), and water filtration plant ($1 million).
“So, you get the idea that it’s all multi-million issues,” Allaire added.
“This (Supreme Court) is going to be around for a long time, and threatens to have the last word on issues championed by the new House majority. It’s informed by a vision of yesterday, while the people who live under its jurisdiction are looking at tomorrow.”
A Vermont woman charged with making false statements when buying three handguns last year will avoid going to prison in what a federal judge called an “extraordinary sentencing.” A2
Proposed cuts to services for people with disabilities and legislative support for additional programs will be the focus of Disability Awareness Day at the State House on Wednesday. A3
Into the playoffs
See what’s in store for local girls basketball playoffs in today’s sports section. B1
Evening of Poetry
Nancy Richardson reading from her new book, “An EveryDay Thing.” Joined by local poet, Joyce Thomas. 6:30-7:30 p.m. Phoenix Books Rutland, 2 Center St, Ste 1, Rutland, 802-855-8078.