BURLINGTON — Steven D. Bourgoin was sentenced Monday to 30 years to life in prison for killing five Central Vermont teens in a horrific wrong-way fiery crash while impaired on Interstate 89 in Williston almost three years ago.
Vermont Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin said he fashioned the sentence to give some hope to Bourgoin that he would eventually get out of prison and return to society, but also wanted to ensure there was proper punishment.
The judge also said he wants Bourgoin, who was raised in Rutland, under the authority of the Vermont Corrections Department for the remainder of his life.
Before imposing the sentence, Griffin said he was touched by all the statements from the victims’ families, but admitted he was moved by one parent offering forgiveness for killing his daughter. Daniel Harris, father of Mary Harris, provided it while looking directly at Bourgoin, who nodded acknowledgment.
“I don’t think I have ever witnessed anything as powerful,” Griffin said.
He and his wife, Elizabeth Harris said after the sentencing they believe their daughter would have forgiven Bourgoin because that was her style.
“To live in the grace that my daughter Mary lived in, I just think it’s just important to kind of live like that and kind of move forward and not carry that load,” Dan Harris said.
“She was a forgiver,” his wife told reporters.
Prosecutors had requested a 40-years-to-life penalty during the 5-hour sentencing hearing, which included emotional victim impact statements from 4 of the 5 families.
The defense proposed a 20-year-to-life sentence with all but possibly 15 years to serve and the rest on probation.
Bourgoin, 38, spoke publicly for the first time, offering an apology to the families of the victims and others. He never took the witness stand during his 11-day trial in May.
The defense had maintained during the trial Bourgoin was criminally insane when he drove his northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta on I-89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.
Killed were: the driver, Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, and his passengers Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown. They were returning home from a concert in South Burlington.
Their car rolled over in the median and burst into flames after the crash. Harris was ejected, while the others were found in the car.
Bourgoin, who was wearing a seatbelt, later stole a Williston Police cruiser, fled south on I-89, made a U-turn, and returned to the scene. Bourgoin crashed the cruiser into the wreckage of the first crash and was ejected.
Investigation showed six hours after the crash Bourgoin still had drugs in his system.
Griffin said Monday he considered the two crashes separate crimes and noted the final sentence would reflect it. He imposed 26 years to life for each of the 5 deaths and said those 5 sentences would run concurrently.
For stealing the police cruiser the judge imposed 4-to-5 years and added it to the homicide sentence. Griffin also levied a concurrent 1-to-2 year term for gross negligent operation of the cruiser, providing an extra 5 years beyond the maximum life sentence in the 5 homicides.
Griffin said Bourgoin will get credit for almost 3 years in prison since his October 2016 arrest.
Bourgoin receives an automatic appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court because of the life sentence.
“Obviously Mr. Bourgoin is disappointed with the length of the sentence,” said defense lawyer Robert W. Katims. He said it appeared Griffin took into consideration Bourgoin’s mental health issues the night of the crash.
He said Bourgoin said nothing after the sentence was imposed.
Katims said he believes there are several strong appeal issues for the high court to consider besides the insanity issue. Among them is the failure of the judge to grant a mistrial midway through the trial when the prosecution failed to turn over some evidence, said Katims, who was assisted by Sara Pols.
Katims said another strong appeal issue is the judge meeting privately with the jury after the trial, but then being asked to rule on a post-trial motion that raised issues about whether all 12 jurors were impartial. Two jurors had asked the court about getting counseling.
Griffin had rejected both issues in earlier rulings.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, who picked up the case from her predecessor T.J. Donovan, declined to criticize the sentence. She said she thought the evidence supported 40 years, but also credited the judge with explaining his thinking.
She noted “it is a significant sentence.” George said the 30 years is twice as long as each teen victim lived.
George said under current Vermont law Bourgoin must remain in prison until he is 66 years old. He will be ineligible for furloughs or early release for good time, said George, who handled the trial with veteran deputy prosecutor Susan Hardin.
“I think he regrets what happened,” George said about Bourgoin. But she questioned whether his apology was sincere for the families.
George said she plans to pass the case to a deputy in her office that has handled appeals for 30 years. George said she is not as skilled and informed about appeals. Katims, who was appointed to defend Bourgoin, also will punt the case — to the Defender General’s Office, which handles appeals.
Zschau was an honor student at Harwood Union, where he also played both varsity soccer and baseball. He worked at the Round Barn Inn and the Canteen Creemee Co. During the winter, he loved to ski and hang out in the Mount Ellen lodge with his closest friends.
Hale participated on the track and field team for multiple events at Harwood Union. During his middle school years, he also played soccer and lacrosse. He also began skiing at an early age, loved mountain biking and more recently golf. He worked at Sugarbush Resort.
Harris was an honor student in her junior year at Harwood Union, where she was involved in numerous activities, including soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. She also loved skiing at Sugarbush and Mad River Glen. She also worked at The Bridges and at Vermont North Ski Shop.
Brookens was a junior at Harwood Union, where he devoted himself to soccer, skiing and music. He enjoyed Capital Soccer Club and Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports.
Cozzi was a sophomore at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, where she made the varsity soccer team as a freshman. She was involved with Mad River Valley Soccer, Vermont Elite Futbol Club and Capital Soccer Club. She was a counselor for the KUA Girls Leadership Camp.
State police estimated Bourgoin was driving at 79 miles per hour when he crashed the first time. The teens were trapped in the Volkswagen Jetta, which burst into flames, police said. When Bourgoin stole the Williston Police cruiser, he returned to the scene at an estimated 107 mph when he crashed into his wrecked truck, police said. The cruiser also caught fire.
BARRE — With some notable exceptions the first day of school in the recently merged Barre Unified Union School District looked a lot like it did in the days when the district’s three schools were autonomously run.
As they historically have, school buses dropped students off in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon at elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, while transportation wasn’t provided to students at Spaulding High School.
Same old, same old?
Yes and no.
While Spaulding’s new-look library wasn’t quite finished in time for Monday’s opening day students got a peek at the coming attraction and freshmen were presented brand new Chromebooks that will be at their disposal – both at school and at home – for the next four years.
“It was a whirlwind day,” Principal Brenda Waterhouse said after what she described as a successful start to the school year even if the library probably won’t be ready until next week.
“Things are coming together and it looks pretty fabulous,” she said.
Waterhouse said the shift to one-to-one technology is now roughly two-thirds complete. Nearly 400 upperclassmen picked up reconditioned Chromebooks last week and hundreds more are in the process of being assigned.
This year’s freshman class will were assigned new devices, while seniors were given older, but updated Chromebooks that they will be able to purchase for a nominal fee when the school year is over.
Juniors, sophomores and freshmen, who are being assigned progressively newer devices, will be offered that same option when they graduate, creating an incentive to treat the Chromebooks with care.
While in use at Spaulding the computers have been equipped with filters to prevent students from visiting inappropriate sites on the Internet.
Waterhouse said students who haven’t yet received their Chromebooks will on Wednesday and Thursday when their school photographs are taken.
“We’re pretty excited about providing this opportunity for all students,” she said.
While take-home computers were a new addition at Spaulding, the year opened with more than 70 staffing changes across the district that includes the elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, Spaulding and the Spaulding-based Central Vermont Career Center.
In addition to 32 resignations and eight retirements, 14 staff members transferred to new positions including some that were newly created.
At Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Co-Principals Hayden Coon and Christopher Hennessey settled into their second year overseeing a staff that saw several teachers switch positions and a number of new arrivals.
Among the more notable additions was Mary Alice Osborn who was hired to replace the school’s long-time librarian Stephanie McMahan who retired earlier this year.
At Barre Town Middle and Elementary School veteran elementary school Principal Jennifer Nye was joined by her new middle school counterpart, Erica Pearson, even as a last-minute licensing glitch derailed Pearson’s replacement as the school’s assistant principal. Julie Donahue won’t be taking that job and school officials plan to re-advertise the administrative position.
The assistant principal’s position at Barre Town is one of several across the district that still need to be filled, including two others where last-minute licensing issues resulted in the voluntary resignation of two other staff members.
Due to elevated lead testing conducted over the summer drinking fountains were removed from classrooms at the school in Barre Town where students will instead use filtered, and chilled drinking water stations strategically placed throughout the school. Those stations were also tested over the summer and did not display elevated lead levels that prompted the decision to strip drinking fountains – many of them rarely used – from the classrooms.
Elevated lead levels in water weren’t a problem at Barre City Elementary and Middle School where a contractor replacing a section of the school’s roof isn’t quite finished, but that didn’t disrupt the first day of school. The work is expected to be finished this weekend.
BARRE — City councilors are being asked if they want to exercise their option to order the public auction of a Prospect Street property in hopes of recovering at least some of the money the city is owed by its owner.
An earlier attempt to foreclose on the undeveloped property was abandoned more than three years ago in favor of a court-approved stipulation that empowered the city to auction off the property owned by Wilfred Langevin if Langevin didn’t sell it before Nov. 30, 2017.
Langevin didn’t, which opened the door to the public auction option councilors will discuss when they meet tonight.
Though nearly two years have passed since the city was authorized to enlist the assistance of an auctioneer to dispose of the two tiny lots, nothing in the stipulation signed by Langevin and then-Mayor Thomas Lauzon prevents it from doing so now.
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said Monday it isn’t a question of “if” the council can auction the property, or even “when.” The stipulation gives the city the open-ended authority to sell the once-littered land that was the subject of a protracted dispute that dates back to 2005.
According to Mackenzie, the question boils down to whether the council is interested in selling two lots that collectively cover less than three-tenths of an acre and are assessed for tax purposes at a combined $19,800.
To put that in perspective, Langevin had racked up nearly $18,000 in fines and more than $12,500 in interest when the foreclosure was still pending four years ago.
At the time the city claimed Langevin’s property had been littered for a decade with “… trash, junk vehicles, junk machinery, hazardous waste and used oil, and miscellaneous debris” triggering fines associated with violations of several local ordinances dating back to 2005.
Langevin ignored repeated requests that he clean up the property and in 2008 was ordered to pay the city $17,500 in fines and $310 in court costs and given 60 days to clean up the property. He didn’t and by the time the city filed its now-abandoned complaint of foreclosure six years and more than $12,500 in interest later the city had a growing lien on the property that exceeded $30,000.
The signed stipulation replaced the threat of foreclosure, the property was cleaned up and Mackenzie is giving the council an opportunity to weigh in.
The manager isn’t making any recommendations.
“I don’t know that there is a lock on the right way to proceed,” Mackenzie said, noting that while the lien remains, the problem has been resolved, taxes are being paid, and maintaining the status quo is an option. So, he said, is an auction, which could recover at least some of the money the city is owed.
“The odds that we’ll recover our expenses are slim to none,” Mackenzie said, explaining the city would incur some additional costs if it decides to move forward with the an auction.
According to the stipulation, if the costs associated with conducting the auction would be deducted from the winning bid before the money is divided up. The city would pocket the first $2,500, under the agreement, while Langevin would receive the next $2,500 and the two sides would split anything over $5,000 down the middle.
The stipulation outlines a different arrangement if Langevin, now in his late-80s, sells the property on his own. If that were to happen the agreement contemplates the city would be entitled to the first $10,000 after broker’s fees are deducted, Langevin would receive the next $10,000, and if property sold for more than $20,000 the two sides would split the remaining amount equally.
Mackenzie said he doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other, but doesn’t want the city to end up owning the property that is currently generating at least some tax revenue.
“We need a generation of leaders, in all nations, with the vision to say ‘yes’ to the right uses of (the planet), and the courage to say ‘no’ to the wrong ones. That’s not our situation at the moment.”
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Shape the Future of Outdoor Recreation. The VT Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation wants to hear from you. Your input will help develop the next Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. 6-8 p.m. Thatcher Brook School Gym, 47 Stowe Street, Waterbury, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-598-4551.