WILLISTON, Vt. — Five Vermont high school juniors were killed when the car they were riding in was hit by a wrong-way driver, who authorities said then stole a police cruiser and crashed into seven more cars before the cruiser burst into flames.
“The loss of five teens in such a senseless tragedy is unimaginable and heartbreaking,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said.
State police said they believe Steven Bourgoin, 36, was behind the wheel of a pickup truck traveling the wrong way on an interstate in Williston Saturday night when he crashed into a car, which then caught fire.
The five teenagers in the car were all pronounced dead at the scene. They were identified as 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.
A Williston police officer was the first to arrive on the scene. As he tried to extinguish the car fire, a man, later identified as Bourgoin, jumped in the officer’s cruiser and took off, state police said.
When a Richmond police officer tried to stop him, Bourgoin turned the cruiser around and began heading north in a southbound lane, back toward the crash scene, hitting seven other vehicles along the way, authorities said.
Bourgoin was then thrown from the cruiser, which went up in flames, state police said. He was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition early Monday morning. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
State police said at least nine other people were injured in the series of crashes and were taken to UVM Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
Four of the students who were killed attended Harwood Union High School, said Amy Rex, the school’s co-principal. A fifth student attended a different school.
“This is an unprecedented tragedy; we have suffered a tremendous loss,” Rex said. “These students were vibrant members of our school community, actively involved and all with a promise for a bright future.”
A vigil for the students will be held Monday evening at Harwood Union High School. Gov. Shumlin said in a statement that he planned to attend.
“Vermont is a community, and today we join the Harwood Union family, and share the sadness and loss of the families and friends of these teens,” said Shumlin. “My deepest sympathies are with their loved ones.”