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Williston man arrested in connection with I-89 teen fatalities

Williston crash victims. Facebook images
Williston crash victims. Facebook images

By Alan Keays, Anne Galloway and Jess Wisloski

Vermont Digger/Observer staff

A Williston man was arrested Tuesday night on charges he caused the I-89 crash last weekend that left five teenagers dead and seven vehicles damaged as a result of a high speed tear up the highway in the wrong direction.

Steven Bourgoin, 36, who owns a condo in Finney Crossing, was arrested by Vermont State Police while still hospitalized and in “serious condition” at the UVM Medical Center. After a four-day investigation into the deaths, he was placed in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

He was in critical condition since the Saturday night crash and upgraded on Tuesday. A hospital spokesperson, who said he couldn’t supply more than one-word condition statuses, said that means Bourgoin’s vital signs were improving, but he was not able to say whether the suspect was awake. Earlier on Saturday, Bourgoin sought medical care at UVM, and was referred to get help at the Howard Center. The center told press they did not evaluate him.

According to court reports, Bourgoin allegedly drove a Toyota Tacoma at a high speed in the wrong direction up the highway at 11:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.

Officer Eric Shepard, with the Williston Police Department, was the first responder at the scene, court documents stated, and while he attempted to rescue a female passenger from the burning vehicle, Bourgoin stole the police cruiser, a Ford Explorer, and drove the wrong way again on the same stretch of highway.

“Shepard ordered all the civilians and first responders to clear off the highway,” according to state police testimony. “Shepard then witnessed the police cruiser come over the hill at a high rate of speed traveling in the middle of the highway….the cruiser then struck the rear of the Toyota Tacoma at full speed and then spun/crashed into several other vehicles.” He poses “extreme flight risk,” a prosecutor said.

Four others were reportedly injured in the accidents: Mary Ryan-Lambert, 29, suffered back and shoulder injuries. Michael Plunkett, 27, sustained chest impact injuries. Christopher Howland, 50, suffered an injury to his leg.  Ten people in total were transported that night to UVM Medical Center. Williston Fire said in a release that they responded with a total of five personnel on three engines and a rescue truck, and had help from South Burlington, Richmond and Essex departments, as well.

“The way they described it is when they first pulled up, it reminded them of the movie ‘Armageddon,’” said Fire Chief Ken Morton. “Multiple cars on fire, multiple people screaming and injured. It was quite the crazy situation. At least from our perspective, the people from Williston Fire really took care of business very appropriately.”

In a statement the department posted on Facebook and released to the media, Senior Firefighter Prescott Nadeau wrote, “Williston Fire Department would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those lost in this tragic event. Please keep all those involved in your thoughts and prayers.”

Williston Police arrested Bourgoing earlier this year on charges of misdemeanor assault and felony unlawful restraint, at his home on May 12. Police said he attacked his girlfriend, Anila Lawrence, with whom he co-owns a condominium on Madison Drive.

In an interview with detectives, Anila Lawrence, Bourgoin’s ex-girlfriend, described him as “being angry and having mood swings,” adding that their relationship had changed after the birth of their daughter in February 2015.

Bourgoin ultimately pleaded innocent on May 13 to domestic assault and unlawful restraint charges and was released on conditions, including that he have no contact with the alleged victim. He had been set to appear in family court in Burlington on Thursday for a child support hearing.

Lawrence wrote in a statement filed in family court in Burlington, seeking a relief from abuse order, that he had repeatedly pushed her to the floor and pulled her hair on the date of the incident. She said she left the residence with their 2-year-old daughter, and as she tried to get away in a vehicle, he pulled her out of the car, wanting to keep the child.

“He was telling me we would go somewhere with no cell reception and that the police would never get there in time,” Lawrence said in a written sworn statement provided to Williston police. “He threatened to drive us off the road and that even if I went to the police that they wouldn’t be able to stop him… I believe his threats are true and that he won’t stop until he has what he wants,” according to the documents.

She wrote that she refused, and he got into the driver’s seat, hitting  her in the head and pulling on a lanyard around her neck.

“He whipped out of the driveway and wouldn’t let us out. While going down the road he grabbed my neck lanyard again and we almost went off the road,” she wrote. “He sped out towards Essex and was yelling about how he’d kill us both  before he’d let [the child] go with me.”

Lawrence went to the Williston police station after leaving the residence, and told them she has had a relationship with him for seven years but that a similar incident happened two years ago when they were living together in Massachusetts. They were trying to “work things out” as they lived together in Williston, she told police. Lawrence also wrote in her statement that she suffered from frequent headaches from all the times Bourgoin had pulled her hair.

Four of the five teenagers who were killed in the crash Saturday night were juniors at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, according to a school official.

A vigil was held Monday night at Harwood for Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, Janie Cozzi, 15, and Liam Hale, 16, both of Fayston, and Mary Harris, 16, and Cyrus Zschau, 16, both of Moretown. Cozzi had attended a N.H. private school, Kimball Union Academy.

This article was compiled Wednesday, Oct. 12.