Man in wrong-way fatal crash faces domestic assault trial

Wendy Peterson, left, and Kristi McKnight, right, staff at Harwood Union High School, update a marquee in front of the school Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, in Duxbury, Vt., with an invitation to the public to attend a vigil for four students from the school, and a fifth member of the community, killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 Sunday. The five teenagers were killed when a pickup truck speeding in the wrong direction on the highway slammed into their car, sending it up in flames. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

DUXBURY, Vt. - A man accused of driving the wrong way on an interstate, crashing into a car and killing five high school students, is facing trial on an unrelated domestic assault charge, prosecutors said Monday.

A police affidavit says Steven Bourgoin hit his girlfriend in the head and threatened to throw her down the stairs in May. Police say when she tried to leave with their 2-year-old child, Bourgoin got into the vehicle, drove them around and threatened to kill them. The now ex-girlfriend received custody of the child last month, prosecutors said.

Bourgoin remained unconscious and in critical condition at a hospital Monday. Police say that after crashing into the teens' car he took a police cruiser and crashed into seven more cars. They say he was injured when he was thrown from the vehicle, which went up in flames.

Prosecutors say Bourgoin is their prime suspect in the teens' deaths, but they haven't charged him. They applied for an arrest warrant on charges related to use of the police cruiser.

It was unknown if Bourgoin has an attorney. A public defender representing him in the domestic violence case didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Chittenden County state's attorney TJ Donovan raised questions about the motive for the crashes. When asked if the driver was trying to kill himself, he said he "would not classify what occurred on Interstate 89 as an accident."

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin ordered flags to fly at half-staff. He called the teens' deaths "unimaginable and heartbreaking."

The teens died at the scene of the crash in Williston on Saturday night. They were 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.

Classmates, teachers and staff at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, where four of the five were students, held a candlelight vigil for them. About 1,000 people attended. Many cried before releasing lanterns that floated off into the chilly night.

Darrell Mays, Mary's uncle, thanked the community for supporting the family but said their grief was only just beginning to be felt. He urged the students left behind to honour their friends who died.

"Live a great life," he said. "That's what you can do for your friends who died."

Dan Weintraub, Janie's soccer coach and European history teacher at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, said her teammates and coaches deeply loved her.

"She always came to every practice with a huge smile and put in a 100 per cent effort," he said. "Everybody followed her lead."

Bourgoin, 36, is a warehouse associate at Lake Champlain Chocolates. A spokeswoman said workers were as shocked and saddened as everyone else in the area.

Around midday Monday, the boys and girls soccer teams at Harwood started kicking balls around the field. Two of the students killed were on the boys varsity soccer team, and all had grown up playing soccer.

Assistant soccer coach Joe Yalicki said a varsity game that had been scheduled for Monday was cancelled but the team wanted to get together.

"They agreed to get together today just to do something, kick the ball around, laughing and crying, a little of both," said Yalicki, who graduated from Harwood in 2009 and had known all five students since they were in eighth grade.

Mason Lemery, 16, a Harwood soccer team member, said the last 24 hours had been "really hard."

"We're just trying to remember all the good memories of them, doing what they would have wanted us to do, come out here and play soccer," he said.

In Waitsfield, one of the communities that makes up the Harwood school district, free soft-serve ice cream was given out Monday at the Canteen Creamery, where Cyrus worked.

"Cyrus was a big presence here, but his friends were as well," said store owner Charlie Menard, who had Cyrus' name written on the white hat he was wearing.

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Rathke reported from Montpelier and Burlington. Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report from Concord, New Hampshire.

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This story has been corrected to show Harwood Union High School is in Duxbury, not Moretown.

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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