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.