WILLISTON — Accused wrong-way driver Steven Bourgoin had anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from childhood trauma and may have also had Lyme disease, according to a close friend.
Asima Cosabic, 33, said Bourgoin was her best friend and the two had known each other for the last eight years. They met through Cosabic’s husband Alen, who worked with Bourgoin at Logic Supply.
Alen Cosabic is named in court documents, and was interviewed by state police investigating the Oct. 8 crash on Interstate 89 that left five Waterbury area teenagers dead. Asima Cosabic said she was interviewed by police on Tuesday.
State’s Attorney TJ Donovan has said the investigation into Bourgoin is ongoing.
Cosabic said she first learned in a phone call from another friend of news reports identifying Bourgoin as the driver who had allegedly crashed head-on into the teens car before stealing a police cruiser and driving it at high speed — eventually doubling back and slamming into the original crash scene.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, “I remember asking, ‘Our Steven?’ I was in shock.”
Cosabic said she is devastated and she feels she has lost her friend. At the same time, Cosabic, a mother, said she’s grieving for the families of the teens who died.
“They’re in our thoughts and our prayers constantly since this happened,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
Cosabic said that Bourgoin had told her he had anxiety and PTSD from traumatic childhood experiences. She would not discuss what that trauma was, though she said Bourgoin had told her what happened.
A Williston Police officer, who was among the first at the crash scene — and whose cruiser Bourgoin allegedly stole — knew Bourgoin from a previous domestic assault case. That officer also told investigators that Bourgoin had PTSD.
“He was a very regular guy who leaned on his friends because he didn’t have family,” Cosabic said. Bourgoin’s father and grandmother died a few years ago in quick succession. He grew up without his mother, and Bourgoin doesn’t speak to his brother, according to Cosabic.
She said that Bourgoin was facing “serious financial problems,” which are documented in court records. When police searched his home they discovered a foreclosure notice for his Williston home and a shut-off notice from the gas company.
Cosabic said Bourgoin was also in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend over their daughter. Bourgoin allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend in May, and the domestic assault charge is scheduled to go to trial next month. Cosabic declined to comment on the assault allegations.
Bourgoin pleaded not guilty on May 13 to domestic assault and unlawful restraint charges and was released on conditions, including that he have no contact with his ex-girlfriend.
The woman wrote in a statement filed in family court seeking a relief from abuse order against Bourgoin that on May 12 he repeatedly pushed her to the floor and pulled her hair.
She said she left his home with their 2-year-old child, and as she tried to get away in her car, he entered the driver’s seat, hitting her in the head and pulling on a lanyard around her neck.
Bourgoin drove the car erratically, according to the woman, at one point saying he would kill them both before letting their child go with her, according to her statement.
In a later interview with police investigating Bourgoin for the wrong-way driving crash, the woman told them he had threatened to drive the three of them into a pond.
“He had a lot of problems,” Cosabic said of Bourgoin, adding that his mood had darkened in recent months.
Still, as her husband told police, Cosabic said she had never heard Bourgoin say or do anything suicidal, and outside of the assault allegations she wasn’t aware of any violent behavior in his past.
Roughly a year ago, Bourgoin had told Cosabic that he believed he was suffering from Lyme disease contracted from a tick bite. Cosabic said that Bourgoin had looked up symptoms of Lyme disease and told her he was experiencing all of them.
The Health Department lists the symptoms of Lyme as fatigue, headaches, chills and fever, muscle and joint pain and lesions around the original tick bite.
Cosabic said that might explain the medical bills for x-ray and lab work that, according to court documents, police discovered when they searched his home. She also said that he had gone years without health insurance, but more recently had coverage through his job at Lake Champlain Chocolates.
Bourgoin quit that job a day before the crash, having left work early after getting lunch with Cosabic’s husband. He told his manager that he was sick, and then resigned saying that he needed a job that paid more money, according to court documents.
State’s Attorney Donovan said last week that the investigation into Bourgoin has not revealed what he was doing at the UVM Medical Center’s emergency room hours before the crash, though surveillance footage shows him entering and exiting three times the morning of Oct. 8.
Cosabic said she doesn’t know what he was doing at the hospital that day either, but she said she’s convinced he was seeking help — likely for his deteriorating mental health.
“Just knowing him and knowing his struggles, he was looking for help, I can almost guarantee it,” she said.
Bourgoin’s case, and its tragic outcome, has led to speculation that he fell through the cracks of Vermont’s mental health care system. Initial reports, in a detective’s sworn statement, said that the Howard Center was called on Oct. 8 about Bourgoin, but the Howard Center has released statements saying that’s not the case.
The Howard Center is the designated mental health provider for the region, and holds a roughly $90 million state contract to provide mental health, substance abuse and disability services.
Medical privacy laws will likely make it difficult for the public to find out what Bourgoin was doing at the emergency room, but the death of five teenagers may prompt lawmakers to revisit how people seeking help in the emergency room are screened anyway.