The trial for Steven Bourgoin, the man accused of killing five teenagers when he drove the wrong way on I-89, began Monday.
Bourgoin has been charged with multiple counts of second-degree murder in the crash that killed Mary Harris, Cyrus Zschau, Liam Hale, Eli Brookens and Janie Chase Cozzi, who were heading home from a concert October 8, 2016.
Witnesses say Bourgoin was speeding and driving the wrong way when he hit the teenager’s car. Police say he then stole a police cruiser and caused other crashes. Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During opening statements, the prosecution focused on the events of the night of the crash: October 8, 2016.
“The scene that night was like a war zone. Witnesses will tell you that. People were walking around shell shocked,” said Susan Hardin, deputy state’s attorney.
Hardin says Bourgoin was driving 76 miles per hour at the time of impact and the Jetta, with the teenagers inside, had slowed to 33 miles per hour.
“The force of the impact was so strong that it pushed the Jetta back up 89 and into a median where it flipped over,” she said.
Bourgoin’s defense team isn’t denying the facts of what happened or the devastation it caused.
“It’s hard to even think about those five taken from life, their families. It’s not just. It’s unthinkable,” said Robert Katims, Bourgoin’s defense attorney.
Instead, Katims wants the jury to consider why Bourgoin may have done this.
“In the days before the crash, he became more and more delusional, thinking he was seeing or getting some sort of messages about a government mission he was to participate in. Or perhaps he had inadvertently stumbled upon something on the internet that he wasn’t supposed to see and he was in danger,” said Katims.
Katims is arguing his client was insane at the time of the crash.
He says Bourgoin saw messages in traffic lights, in songs on the radio, on walls at the University of Vermont Medical Center where he sought treatment before the crash.
Bourgoin doesn’t remember the crash itself, only the aftermath, according to Katims.
“He doesn’t see children there at all. He sees what he thinks are mannequins with breathing appartuses on them. He thinks ‘this is a set up’,” said Katims.
Prosecution called ten witnesses Monday, including Bourgoin’s neighbor and nine people who either saw the wrong -way driving or pulled over to help after the crash.
“Man I hope they get ’em before they hurt somebody,” said on of the witnesses of the erratic driving in a 911 call played in the courtroom.
Keith Porter was in a vehicle that pulled over to help.
He said Bourgoin spoke to him on scene.
“He just says ‘I don’t know what happened. I just lost control,” he testified.
Porter sustained minor injuries, including a broken toe, when he said Bourgoin stole a police cruiser and crashed into vehicles that were pulled over.
“I only had time to basically lay down on the highway and I expected to not survive. I just thought, ‘This is how it’s going to go.’ I remember hoping it would be quick,” he testified about the moments before the cruiser crashed into the vehicles.
Joseph Leuchter-Mindel and Susan Jaynes are both medical professionals who came upon the crash.
They administered CPR to Mary Harris who was thrown from the car.
“I did sit with Mary and I was working on her doing CPR and felt very very present to the fact that she was passing,” Jaynes said. “I also was really, even though there was this whole emergency scene going on, I felt incredibly aware and almost a real obligation to be just super present to the fact that I didn’t know who was in the vehicle next to us but I knew that life was passing and I feel very strongly that the passing of all life is sacred and I felt a real obligation to just hold space because that’s really all I could do.”
The state will call more witnesses Tuesday.