Bourgoin trial: Witnesses recreate scene of crash that killed teens

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Laureen Wells says she was so traumatized on the night of October 8, 2016, that she thought she was dead. 

“I can’t believe I just died,” Wells said in court Wednesday, the third day of testimony in the murder trial of Steven Bourgoin in Burlington. “‘I just died, and I don’t want to be dead.” 

Prosecutors say Bourgoin drove the wrong way on I-89 and crashed into a Jetta carrying 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.

All five teenagers, who were returning from a concert, died.

Prosecutors say that after the initial crash, while the Jetta burned, Bourgoin got into a Williston police cruiser. He drove off at a high speed, looped back to return to the crash scene, where he rammed other vehicles, including his own pickup. 

WATCH: Bourgoin reached 103 mph in stolen cruiser

“The white car, I didn’t know it was a cruiser at the time, came flying by me,” Wells told jurors. “It felt very close at the time.”

Her husband, James Wells, had left their vehicle and approached the flaming Jetta on the median. He testified that he assisted police, including to help pull Harris’ body from the wreckage. 

“I went back up to the interstate [after the police cruiser crashed] because I thought a dozen people were dead,” he testified after taking a moment to compose himself.

Prosecutors presented witnesses who testified that DNA samples showed Bourgoin was behind the wheel of the pickup when it crashed into the Jetta.

Det. Sgt. Matt Denis, who is now retired, said he was initially called to the scene to help interview witnesses. Instead, he was charged with removing the bodies of four teens from the burned Jetta and take them to the morgue.

He remembers talking to Williston police officer Eric Shepard, whose cruiser Bourgoin had stolen. Denis said Shepard appeared to be in shock. 

“The pacing, the inability to communicate in any real form,” he told the jury. “I had asked very pointed questions. His responses were complete gibberish.”

Vermont Deputy Medical Examiner Elizabeth Bundock testified that all five victims suffered blunt force trauma to the head, in addition to other injuries. Bundock’s office ruled the deaths homicides.

Sgt. Owen Ballinger, who leads the Vermont State Police Crash Reconstruction Team, testified that he was informed of the crash in a phone call form a tooper who described it as “a real disaster.” 

Ballinger’s testified that his team analyzed gouges and scratches on the highway and measured distances between vehicles. He showed the jury pictures of Bourgoin’s truck and the police cruiser, as well as the teens’ Jetta.

Ballinger said evidence from the scene showed that neither driver applied the brakes “sufficiently hard” or “sufficiently long enough” to leave skid marks.

Ballinger also described Bourgoin’s actions behind the wheel of the stolen police car.

“The cruiser was speeding up. I believe it was 97 miles an hour, sped up to 107,” he testified.

“What about the braking action?” asked Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Hardin.

“There was no braking,” Ballinger replied.

The state is expected to call its final two witnesses, including Shepard, on Thursday. Bourgoin’s attorneys begin their defense Friday.

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