Bourgoin gets 30 years to life in wrong-way crash that killed 5 teens

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The man convicted of killing five teens in a wrong-way crash has been sentenced to serve a total of 30 years to life in prison with credit for time served.

Vermont Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin handed the sentence Monday afternoon after a day of emotional testimony from families of the victims and others impacted by the crashes the night of October 8, 2016.

Bourgoin was visibly emotional as the judge explained how he came to the sentence he did, and explained to Bourgoin that while he saw a lot of good in him, there were clearly troubling signs. He said Bourgoin had plenty of opportunities to seek mental health help and didn't.

The five teenagers remained largely faceless through the trial process, which didn't allow photos of them due to concerns about emotionally influencing the jury. That changed Monday in court, where heartbroken families were finally able to say what they lost that night.

First to speak was Mary Harris' family, with a message of grief and grace. "It's been 1,052 days since I began grieving the loss of my daughter Mary. That feeling of loss will never end," said Liz Harris," Mary's mom. "I see a weak individual, a coward, someone who can't take responsibility... I do not have room in my heart for vengeance."

"To live like Mary, to love like Mary, with grace. Steven Bourgoin, I must forgive you," said Dan Harris, Mary's dad.

Then, Cyrus Zschau's parents described an athlete and honors student taken too soon. "He leaves behind his parents who still are trying to come to grips with the fact that we can't hug him," said Chris Zschau, Cyrus' dad. "I feel like Mr. Bourgoin deserves the maximum sentence for this crime."

"You took a piece of my soul," said Sarah Zschau, Cyrus' mom. "My wish for you is you do no more harm to others, ever."

From Eli Brookins' father, Bob Brookins, came grief that Bourgoin lived that night while his son and friends did not. "The kind of person you are is the exact opposite of how each one of these kids are in life. And you got to live your life," he said. "I don't know how you can live with yourself... you can't even look me in the eye."

His mother, Colleen Ovelman, saying how nothing compared to the pain. "How utterly devastating, how life-altering it is to wake up one morning and find that your baby has been murdered while you were asleep," she said.

The family showed a video Eli made about himself his freshman year. "I'm the type of person who likes to fill their lives up and be doing something exhilarating and fun when possible," he said in the video.

Ovelman told Bourgoin and the court she would not be able to watch him grow anymore. "I only have this sliver of him," she said.

Liam Hale's family also presented a video of his life. His mother, Sue Hale, described her last moments with her son. "I told him to be safe and that I loved him," she said. "They were on 89, everything was great, I love you. Minutes later, he was killed."

Hale and others said they were thankful the legal process is finally over. "Let it be clear, no matter what the verdict was going to be, our families were always going to be the losers" she said.

Steven Bourgoin's lawyer asked for a lesser sentence, noting his client's mental illness and arguing that Bourgoin did not intend to kill anyone.

Bourgoin then offered a short statement to the judge, and the families he hurt. "I am so very sorry," Bourgoin said. He continued that his outward apparent lack of remorse did not match what he was feeling inside. "Please accept my apology for your loss at my hand, and my hand alone."

Judge Kevin Griffin gave a long and thoughtful sentencing, explaining that the grief and pain was clear from the beginning, and praising the families for their dignity they have shown in court through the long judicial process. He called the moment Mary Harris's father said he was going to forgive Bourgoin "powerful." But in his sentence, he also acknowledged it would not bring closure to the families who have to live with the losses of their children each day.

Bourgoin's case automatically heads to the Vermont Supreme Court for appeal.