Man charged with five counts of second-degree murder pleads not guilty
BURLINGTON >> The suspect in a wrong-way driving crash on Interstate 89 on Oct. 8 that left five teens dead pleaded not guilty to five counts of second degree murder and other charges from a hospital bed Friday.
The arraignment for Steven Bourgoin was held in a conference room at the University of Vermont Medical Center where Bourgoin is under Department of Corrections custody. Bourgoin, 36, lay largely motionless, at times with his eyes closed, and did not speak during the proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. Bruising was visible around his right eye.
Bourgoin allegedly drove his Toyota Tacoma northbound in the southbound lane before crashing head-on into the Volkswagen Jetta carrying the teens. He then allegedly stole a police cruiser from a Williston officer who responded to the crash and was attempting to rescue the teens from the flaming wreckage of their vehicle.
Police say Bourgoin then drove the cruiser southbound before doubling back and slamming into his crashed truck, hitting several vehicles on the way. Bourgoin allegedly turned around when a Richmond police officer intercepted him in the southbound lane.
Each of the second degree murder charges carries a possible sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Attorney Robert Katims and public defender Sara Puls are representing Bourgoin. Judge James Crucitti granted their request for Bourgoin to undergo a competency evaluation. Bourgoin was ordered held without bail on the murder charges, and is in Department of Corrections custody at the UVM Medical Center where he is still recovering from his injuries.
In an interview with reporters after the proceeding, Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan outlined the state's case against Bourgoin, saying that his office has no reason to believe that Bourgoin is not competent to stand trial for the charges he faces.
The competency evaluation will be the next step in the legal case, Donovan said. The investigation into Bourgoin's alleged crimes is still ongoing, but Donovan said they had enough evidence to support the second degree murder charges.
Bourgoin was identified at the scene by a Williston Police officer who had prior interactions with him and by witnesses who gave descriptions of him and the clothing he was found wearing when police and first responders reached him after the second crash.
"Essentially the standard we're operating under is the wanton disregard for the value of human life," Donovan said, "To go five miles in the wrong way at night at a high rate of speed certainly exhibits an extreme indifference to the value of human life, and that's why we brought the second degree murder charge."
Alcohol has been ruled out as a factor, but police are still waiting for the results of Bourgoin's toxicology reports. Donovan said his office would release those results when they have them, but declined to say if the investigation has revealed any evidence as to whether Bourgoin was on drugs.
In an interview with police, Bourgoin's ex-girlfriend described him as "being angry and having mood swings," which typically occurred, "because he ran out of marijuana, which he used to stabilize his mood swings," according to court documents.
Donovan would not address whether he believes Bourgoin was suicidal, repeating that he showed an "indifference to the value of human life," in response to a reporter's question. He declined to speculate on Bourgoin's motive, but noted later in the interview that Bourgoin faced mounting legal and financial pressures.
An affidavit filed in support of the second degree murder charges shows Bourgoin's life deteriorating in the face of a domestic abuse and child custody cases. His Williston home was in foreclosure, and he had a notice that his gas would be turned off soon. Police also found numerous medical bills for lab and x-ray work, according to the affidavit.
Surveillance video from Saturday morning shows Bourgoin entering and exiting the emergency room at the UVM Medical Center, but Donovan said police have not established why he was there that morning.
"We're operating in an environment where there's privileges and confidentiality protections in order to answer those questions," he said, when pressed by reporters.
In a previous affidavit, state police Det. Benjamin Katz wrote that the Howard Center, the designated mental health services provider for the region, was called about Bourgoin's situation but did "not screen him." Bourgoin was seen by a physician assistant at the hospital, according to the affidavit.
Donovan said Friday that it's no longer clear that the Howard Center was contacted about Bourgoin on the Saturday of the crash.
"It's unclear at this point whether Howard Center was called. I know it's been reported that they had been called. It's unclear at this time whether they had been called," Donovan said.
Asked where the uncertainty arose after Det. Katz made his sworn statement saying that the Howard Center was contacted, Donovan said, "We're trying to get clarity, and once we have it we will answer the questions as best we can."
"I think you have to take into consideration, our detectives, our officers, are bombarded with a lot of information we are going through this information to make sure it is accurate so we can present the accurate facts," said Lt. Det. Lance Burnham, in response to questions about whether Howard Center was contacted.
Howard Center said in a statement Wednesday that Vermont State Police investigators have been in contact with the agency in the course of their work. The agency is cooperating with law enforcement, according to the statement.
Donovan, who serves on the Howard Center board, affirmed Friday that the social service nonprofit was cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Victim's advocates from Donovan's office and state police have been in contact with the families of the five teens killed in the crash, he said. Donovan said they had not reached all the families, and were trying to respect their privacy while they grieve their loved ones.
"We'll continue to reach out at the appropriate time to the families," he said.
Morgan True is VTDigger's Burlington bureau chief covering the city and Chittenden County. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @true_morgan.
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