5 high-schoolers killed in wrong-way crash on Vermont highway

WILLISTON, Vt. — Four of the five teenagers who were killed in a crash on Interstate 89 late Saturday night have been identified as juniors at Harwood Union Middle/High School, according to a news release from the school's co-principal, Amy Rex.

A wrong-way driver in a pickup caused the initial crash, police said.  A man then stole a police cruiser that was responding to the scene. While in the cruiser, the man caused several more crashes, injuring several people, before he was ejected from the car and the vehicle burst into flames, Vermont State Police Capt. Mike Henry said.

The five teenagers were identified by Rex as Eli Brookens of Waterbury, Janie Cozzi of Fayston, Liam Hale of Fayston, Mary Harris of Moretown, and Cyrus Zschau of Moretown. Rex said that all the teenagers were juniors in high school, and one of the people in the crash was not a Harwood Union High School student. Rex did not specify which of the teenagers attended a different school, but said the teen was a Harwood community member.

"This is an unprecedented tragedy; we have suffered a tremendous loss," Rex said in a news release. "These students were vibrant members of our school community, actively involved and all with a promise for a bright future."

The man who allegedly stole the cruiser was in critical condition as of 10:30 a.m. Sunday, a hospital spokesperson said. Henry said police have not yet been able to draw a nexus between the wrong-way driver and the man in the cruiser. Police have not said whether they are looking for another suspect, but have deemed the identity of the pickup driver "under investigation."

Henry said police are expecting to bring charges against Steven D. Bourgoin, 36, of Williston, who police say took the police cruiser. Police are working to determine charges, and have not yet scheduled a court appearance. An attempt to reach Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan was not immediately successful Sunday morning.

A number of Chittenden County emergency agencies responded to the scene around midnight on Sunday, and the interstate between exits 13 and 11 was shut down for several hours. The road was open by about 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

At about 11:43 p.m. Saturday, police dispatch began receiving 911 calls about a truck headed north in the southbound lane of I-89, according to a state police news release. About 10 minutes later, police received reports of a crash at mile marker 80.8 near French Hill in Williston.

A 2012 Toyota Tundra pickup headed north in the southbound lane between exits 11 and 12 collided with a 2004 Volkswagen Jetta, police said.

A Williston police officer, first on the crash scene, found a vehicle in flames in the median and ran toward the fire with a fire extinguisher. Officer Eric Shepard pulled a female victim from the burning car, police said. Meanwhile, a man police later identified as Bourgoin took the Williston police cruiser and headed south at a high rate of speed.

Richmond police attempted to intercept him, but the man made a U-turn and once again headed north in the southbound lanes towards the original crash scene at a high rate of speed,. He hit seven other vehicles as he headed north, Henry said. The man was ejected from the cruiser, and the cruiser went up in flames, he said.

Shane Moody said he and his girlfriend Amanda Dinsmore, both of Barre, Vt., were driving south on I-89 near the rest stop in Williston when he noticed blue lights from police vehicles behind him and a number of cars pulled over on the side of the highway in front of him.

Moody pulled his car to the side just as he heard a loud bang, he said. After exiting his car, Moody and Dinsmore said they noticed two cars on fire — one in the center of the road and one down an embankment. Debris covered the roadway.

Police said Bourgoin was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center with “non-incapacitating injuries”  and is in custody.

Five other people sustained non-life threatening injuries in the other crashes and were taken to the UVM Medical Center, Williston Fire Department said in a news release Sunday.

Williston Fire Department said that many witnesses to the crash helped render aid to crash victims prior to the arrival of emergency services. Bystanders initially reported numerous people injured or trapped in their cars, the department stated in a news release.

"There are no words that can truly describe the horrific events as they occurred last night," the fire department wrote. "The 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."

The Harwood Crisis Team opened the school Sunday for all students, faculty and staff, families or community members. The school will be open again from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday, a school holiday, Rex said. The school's faculty, staff and coaches plan to meet Monday afternoon to plan the opening of the school on Tuesday and how to best support our students in the upcoming days.

The school would have been closed Monday for Indigenous People's Day, previously known as Columbus Day, a state holiday.

"Administration, school counselors and support staff will be on-site to provide space and support for our community," Rex said in an email. "We are in contact with Washington County Mental Health and the Northeastern Family Institute, and they too will be available to provide us with additional support."

All Harwood Union sports games planned for Monday have also been canceled in light of the tragedy. This includes boys' junior varsity and varsity soccer, girls' soccer, and varsity and junior varsity field hockey.

Henry said further updates will be sent out when they become available.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," he said late Sunday morning.

Follow Elizabeth Murray on Twitter: @LizMurraySMC


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