Psychiatrist: Bourgoin legally insane at time of wrong-way crash

Steven Bourgoin greets his defense attorney Robert Katims at the start of the eighth day of his murder trial in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Bourgoin is facing five counts of second-degree murder for a crash that killed five teenagers on I-89 in Williston in 2016.

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BURLINGTON — An expert psychiatrist hired by prosecutors in Burlington testified Wednesday she had serious doubts initially that a wrong-way driver was legally insane when he killed five Central Vermont teens in a fiery crash.

But Dr. Reena Kapoor said that after nearly 13 hours of interviews with Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, of Williston she believed he fully met the legal requirements to be found not criminally responsible under Vermont law.

Kapoor of Yale University School of Medicine said Bourgoin was legally insane when he drove his northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta on Interstate 89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.

The Chittenden County State's Attorney's Office had hired Kapoor in an effort to offset an insanity finding initially made by Dr. David Rosmarin of Boston, the expert psychiatrist hired by Bourgoin's defense team.

Kapoor said as she began to investigate the case she had serious doubts that Bourgoin was insane. She thought he might have been fully aware of his criminal conduct, especially when he stole a Williston Police cruiser at the accident scene and later returned to crash into his truck at a high speed.

Bourgoin is charged with five counts of second degree murder for speeding while driving his truck the wrong way and crashing into the Volkswagen carrying the 5 Mad River Valley teens. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a possible 20 years to life for each count, if convicted.

He also has denied two subsequent misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation of a Williston Police cruiser without permission and reckless driving of the police vehicle by crashing it into the first accident scene.

Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown died in the flaming car, state police said. They said Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown died when she was ejected through a sun roof as the Volkswagen crashed and rolled into the grassy median for I-89.

Wednesday was Day 8 for the largest death case charged as a homicide. Testimony could end Friday with closing statements by the lawyers expected on Monday. A half-day session is planned for Thursday with witnesses talking about cellphone towers and other electrical data used to confirm statements from various witnesses.

Kapoor testified she was skeptical of Bourgoin's explanation that in the weeks leading up to the crash that he thought he was becoming part of a special undisclosed government mission.

Bourgoin had maintained he was getting secret messages from the music on his car radio telling him the directions to turn. He also got messages from other electronics, including static on TV sending him Morse Code messages. He also said he received messages from a green light on an ATM machine.

"It seemed like a stretch," Kapoor said about Bourgoin's story.     She said it was especially difficult in light of the "tremendous loss of life" and thought he might be faking it. Tests showed Bourgoin wasn't, she said.

Kapoor said she was approached in May 2018 by veteran Deputy State's Attorney Susan Hardin to work on the case. The doctor said she met with Bourgoin for 4 hours on July 13, 2018. She did another 5 hours of interviews Aug. 17, 2018. The final interview was more than 3 hours on Jan. 25.

"He seemed generally confused," Kapoor said about the first interview.

The doctor said it was necessary for her to look at a "mountain" of paper work before making her decision. "It would have been negligent of me" not to study it, she said.

Bourgoin also reported that after the first crash he went to the flaming car with the teens and when he looked in the front seat he saw two burning manikins. He said he was later drawn to the blue lights of the first police cruiser to arrive at the scene, she said. Bourgoin jumped in and fled from the scene before returning and crashing, the doctor said.

Kapoor said after her third interview at the St. Albans prison she was on her way back to Connecticut when she stopped to see State's Attorney Sarah George to give a verbal report that she believed Bourgoin was insane at the time of the crash.

Defense lawyer Robert Katims asked if she reduced her various findings to writing for prosecutors.

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"They did not want me to write a report," Kapoor stated.

Kapoor said she was later questioned by lawyers during two depositions. She said she asked for more back-up statements and reports, but the prosecutors declined and told her to get them from the defense.

George, during cross examination, attempted to show Bourgoin may have been suicidal. Kapoor said she was aware that he had told a neighbor that if he lost custody of his daughter - which was happening -- that he might take his life.

George also introduced evidence of Bourgoin admitting to increasing the amount of hash oil he was smoking in the week before the crash. He had maintained he had stopped smoking marijuana.

Kapoor also reported said Bourgoin had suffered as a child growing up, including loss of life. His parents divorced when he was 12 and his mother died the following year from cancer. He lived with a stepmother and stepsister, but it was not a good situations and he moved in with teachers and friends from high school.

Bourgoin, a former Rutland High football captain, enlisted in the U.S. Army and planned to be a helicopter pilot, but was dropped after about 3 months due to an issue with a cornea making him almost blind.

"That was going to be his identity," Kapoor said about the military life. He ended up with several low paying jobs.

Bourgoin also reported that he saw a crossword puzzle while working at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Williston that was giving him messages and that the invoices he was processing at work also had secret communications for him.

While Bourgoin had personal issues, he never shared them with anybody, including medical personnel who saw him the morning of the crash, said Kapoor, a comment shared by earlier witnesses.

Kapoor was the final defense witness on Wednesday, but one other is expected to testify first thing Thursday. Meanwhile the state began its rebuttal part of the case by calling four witnesses, including three co-workers at Lake Champlain Chocolate.

The other witness, Dr. Vincent Garbitelli of Garden City, N.Y. testified that he was driving south on I-89 and stopped to render help at the crash site. The self-employed doctor said he saw the flaming car, the road blocked, a man face down in the median in handcuffs and no ambulance.

Garbitelli said he thought there was nothing unusual about Bourgoin's behavior. The doctor said he was concerned about Bourgoin because he had a bump on the head and nose and he was worried about a possible serious concussion.

Bourgoin also had pain in his back and hip. Earlier testimony noted fractures of the hip socket and back.

Garbitelli said he asked police to take the handcuffs off so he could check blood pressure. The doctor said Bourgoin tried to get up to run, but "police officers on the scene controlled him."

Under cross examination by Katims, Garbitelli acknowledged he provided a written statement about his client. "I found him delirious with head injuries," he said in the statement written at 12:49 a.m. Oct. 9, 2016, about an hour after the first crash.

The doctor wrote Bourgoin was "confused intermittently" and also was "impaired and uncooperative."

The other witnesses from Lake Champlain Chocolate were: Dody Kirchgassner of Colchester, a shipping supervisor, Luke Gauthier of Winooski, a co-worker, and Christine Fabian of Jericho, a project manager.

They all testified they saw nothing unusual to think that Bourgoin was insane in the days leading up to the crash.