Eli Brookens

Friends of Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury admired his athleticism. He played soccer, baseball and skied (his friend called him a badass skier). He was a star athlete and a phenomenal pitcher.

He was the oldest of four kids and was reported to be a wonderful big brother and a wonderful son, someone whom many local moms hoped would become friends with their sons.

Brookens was described as a joyful, loving upbeat and happy guy, “a golden boy with a golden heart.”

“He was an amazing guy who had so much passion. He was the guy who was always positive with the biggest smile on his face! I’m still shocked that you are gone, Eli … You will forever be missed,” wrote a friend on Facebook.

Ski coach Ben Grunow called him an “amazing, inspiring, confident athlete,” wise beyond his years and “always caring for others.”

The Waterbury Select Board has approved a memorial bench to honor a young man whose life was tragically cut short by a car crash.

Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury was one of five students killed Oct. 8, 2016, when their car was struck by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 89 in Williston.

On May 20, Waterbury Center resident Chris Koliba asked the select board for permission to install a memorial bench in Brookens’ honor.

“Eli was a pretty special young man,” said Koliba, who told the board he was presenting the idea of behalf of Brookens’ family and friends. “Eli was one of the best athletes we had seen come though our community in a long time.”

Brookens was an accomplished athlete, both on the soccer field and on the slopes as a skier. In 2014, he took first place in the Green Mountain Mile footrace. He was also an honor student at Crossett Brook Middle School and Harwood Union High School.

Koliba suggested the bench, and possibly an heirloom tree, be located on a ridge overlooking Dac Rowe Field, but said the family is willing to work with the town to identify a location that would please all parties.

Koliba said the plan is to raise all the money needed to buy and install the bench, through online contributions and a yet-to-be-announced public event, and said he was waiting for a green light from town officials before fundraising starts.

Board chair Chris Viens asked what the bench would be made of, with Koliba suggesting cedar or hemlock. Board member Mark Frier suggested that granite would prove more durable.

“I know that would mean raising more money, but Rock of Ages might be willing to offer a discount, given the impact this had on the community,” Frier said.

Waterbury resident Everett Coffey expressed support for the proposal.

“I think this is a great idea,” Coffey said. “He was a fine young man.”

Board member Jane Brown said she was involved in erecting a memorial bench on the green in Waterbury Center some years ago. That money was raised privately, but lack of upkeep has left the bench less than stable.

“If we’re going to do this, we need two things,” said Municipal William Shepeluk. “One, we need a design. Two, if we’re going to let it be installed in our facilities, the town should be responsible for it. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask people to come up with money 15 years later.”

The board unanimously approved the bench, pending approval of design and location.

The bench request came two days before Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of Brookens; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown.

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