A Williston man charged with killing five central Vermont teenagers in a fiery wrong-way crash was “out of it,” a Boston-area psychiatrist testified in court both Monday and Tuesday.
Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, believed he was being controlled by lights on an ATM and by the rhythm of music on his car radio, and thought the static from his TV was sending him Morse Code messages, said Dr. David Rosmarin.
He believed he was on some kind of mysterious government mission, and devised an elaborate scenario that controlled his behavior.
He was insane at the time, Rosmarin told the court.
Bourgoin had mental health issues much of his life, Rosmarin testified, but spiraled downward quickly in the month before the crash.
After he drove north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 89, and rammed his pickup truck into the Volkswagen Jetta carrying the teenagers, he stole a police car and raced down and back on the highway before plowing into the wreckage from the first crash.
Rosmarin said Bourgoin thought an emergency medical technician from St. Michael’s College Rescue was there to extricate him for the government mission. He was actually being taken by ambulance to the hospital with a fractured spine, facial fractures and a broken hip.
Rosmarin said his professional diagnosis was based in part on two in-person visits with Bourgoin in prison that lasted about nine hours. The doctor said he also pored through statements from witnesses, police and the findings of a psychiatrist hired by the prosecution; she also found that Bourgoin was insane.
Asked if he’d read the report by a second psychiatrist, Dr. Rena Kapoor of Yale University, Rosmarin said he couldn’t because the prosecution told her not to write a report after she indicated she thought Bourgoin was insane.
The state has switched to Dr. Paul Cotton as its expert, but Rosmarin said he was not impressed by Cotton’s review. He said Cotton did not look at various records, watch or listen to interviews conducted with Bourgoin or do the standard work for regular evaluations.
The other critical testimony came Friday from Bourgoin’s former fiancée, Anila Lawrence of Williston, who talked about their eight-year relationship, which was troubling at times.
Lawrence termed their relationship as “good” between 2008 and 2013. They bought their condo in Williston in 2010 and went on trips to Mexico, the Bahamas, California and Jamaica.
Lawrence said she had learned in June 2013 that she was pregnant on the same day Bourgoin was on his way home to ask her to marry him. Bourgoin was initially happy, she said, especially when he learned it would be a daughter.
But soon things went downhill due to family, work and tight finances. “It got a little tricky,” she said.
During their time together, Bourgoin went through a series of jobs at a Toyota dealership, later at Blodgett Supply, as a stay-at-home dad, and at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Williston. He was depressed, talked more on the phone, and stayed up late at night to spend time on the internet. Bourgoin also began to have intense mood swings — something Lawrence said she had never seen before.
He got more angry about money issues and shutoff notices from utilities, she said.
Bourgoin also was using marijuana, but had stopped drinking, Lawrence told the court.
Defense lawyer Robert Katims asked about two domestic abuse cases that led to his arrest in Massachusetts, and later in Williston in May 2016.
Lawrence said on May 12, 2016, Bourgoin threatened to drive her, their daughter and him into a South Burlington pond to end their lives.
“We can all just die in the pond,” she quoted him as saying. He had been driving erratically that day as they drove through Williston, Essex and South Burlington, she said.
Lawrence said that was when she agreed to 50-50 custody of their daughter “so we could just go home.” Bourgoin had been allowed only one hour of supervised visitation per week.
She said he acted strangely, including the day he drove her to Alburgh to show her an abandoned missile silo that the military used to maintain.
Katims had said in his opening statement that Bourgoin thought he was on a “government mission.”
Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to five counts of second-degree murder in the wrong-way crash at about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016. He also pleaded not guilty to stealing the police cruiser of the Williston officer who was the first policeman to arrive at the crash. While the officer was trying desperately to help the trapped teenagers, Bourgoin drove the police cruiser south on the interstate, then turned around and raced back to the crash, slamming into the wreckage.
The crash claimed the lives of Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown. Authorities believe all five died almost instantly from the impact.
On Monday, Judge Kevin Griffin denied a defense request for a mistrial on the grounds the prosecution hadn’t told them in advance about a statement made Friday by Anila Lawrence.
She testified Bourgoin had told her at some point that there were no wrong-way traffic signs on Interstate 89, and that he was interested in brain studies.
Katims said that should have been disclosed to him in advance by the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, as required under the court rules. Katims in his mistrial motion said some of the information was “exceedingly prejudicial against the defendant.”
State’s Attorney Sarah George said she had mentioned the “no sign” comment to the defense during a meeting this spring, and the brain-study information was contained in a CD that was put in a pickup mailbox for the defense at the courthouse. Katims said the CD was never received, and the state acknowledged it never put a cover letter or any note with the CD or sent an email indicating that it was available for pickup.
George could not offer an explanation.
The judge said the discovery rule had been violated by the state’s attorney’s office, but he would not declare a mistrial.
It took the first two hours of the sixth day of the trial to resolve the issue before Rosmarin was able to take the stand.
Bourgoin was trying to figure out what happened after the crash and was confused in the days leading up to it, Rosmarin said.
“He’s terrified. He’s grossly psychotic,” Rosmarin said. He said Bourgoin was sleeping downstairs at his condo because he feared that it might get burned down by Homeland Security.
Bourgoin also made hand signals out the window of his truck to what he thought was a drone flying overhead.
“He thought his garage was bugged,” the doctor said. Bourgoin also believed he was unable to share any information about the secret government mission because he was unsure who he could trust, Rosmarin said.
Even after being admitted to the hospital, Bourgoin still thought it was all part of a government mission. He needed to figure the special code to get out of the hospital, the doctor said.
He did say Bourgoin never reported hearing voices. The doctor said that is often used by people who are faking. “They will add voices to fake it,” he said.
The doctor also reported Bourgoin was not suicidal. “He has never tried to harm himself.”
Bourgoin came from a split family and when his mother died of cancer when he was young, he went to live with an aunt, Rosmarin said. He said Bourgoin’s father was an alcoholic.
Bourgoin lost two close friends, both women, one to an overdose and another to suicide. Bourgoin had trouble at home, including financial issues, and he assaulted Lawrence once in Massachusetts and later in Williston in May 2016.
Rosmarin also testified about Bourgoin going to the UVM Medical Center about 8:45 the morning of the crash to try to get medical assistance. The medical staff realized he was in crisis and needed mental help, but he apparently walked out without anybody noticing.
Katims and co-counsel Sara Puls presented six other witnesses, including five people employed at the UVM Medical Center on the day of the crash.
Registered nurses Margret Mclaren and Victoria Poulin, who now works at Central Vermont Medical Center, testified about their contact with Bourgoin.
Poulin said Bourgoin was admitted to the hospital for mental health issues more than 12 hours before the crash, and said he was “in some sort of mental health crisis.”
Mclaren said Bourgoin got into a secure area when he arrived at about 8:40 a.m. She called security but he later left.
Lauren Macnee, a physician’s assistant, talked to Bourgoin at the hospital. “He came to the hospital to be in a safe place,” she said.
She said Bourgoin declined a mental health review and left the hospital before he could be discharged.
Two hospital security guards testified about contact with Bourgoin during two visits between 8:30 and 11 a.m. the day of the crash.
Dr. Marion Baranowski, who teaches forensic psychiatry at Yale University Law School, testified about tests she ran in conjunction with Dr. Kapoor's examination, concluding there was no evidence he was faking a psychotic reaction.
Day 8 of the trial resumed Wednesday.