Howard Center disputes wrong-way driver referral

(This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 18 with more information from Det. Benjamin Katz affidavit)

BURLINGTON — The Howard Center says that an internal investigation shows that the man charged with murder in the death of five teenagers after a wrong-way driving crash was not referred to them for screening.

The social service nonprofit, which has a $90 million state contract to provide mental health, substance abuse and disability services in Chittenden County, said that Steven Bourgoin was also not a client of the Howard Center, in the statement released Monday afternoon.

Bourgoin, who pleaded not guilty to murder and minor vehicle charges last week, was seen entering and exiting the emergency room at the UVM Medical Center three times Saturday morning, just hours before he allegedly entered Interstate 89 going north in the southbound lanes.

In a sworn affidavit establishing probable cause for the motor vehicle related charges, which the state filed days before the murder charges, State Police Det. Benjamin Katz wrote that, “I later called the Howard Center and learned that they were called but did not screen (Bourgoin).”

Katz writes that Bourgoin was seen that Saturday morning by a physician assistant but provides no further detail.

In its statement, Howard Center said it “conducted a thorough investigation which included interviews with our clinical staff, and a review of our phone and electronic records.”

That investigation concluded that they were “not contacted to evaluate, assess, or screen this individual on the day of the crash nor at any other time prior to this incident.”

Howard Center also says that Bourgoin was not a client prior to the incident, and that at no point was he referred to them by any other organization.

State’s Attorney TJ Donovan had cast doubt on the information in Katz’s affidavit in comments to reporters last week after Bourgoin’s arraignment.

Donovan said last Friday that it was no longer clear the Howard Center was contacted about Bourgoin on the Saturday of the crash.

“It’s unclear at this point whether Howard Center was called. I know it’s been reported that they had been called. It’s unclear at this time whether they had been called,” Donovan said.

Asked where the uncertainty arose after Det. Katz made his sworn statement saying that Howard Center was contacted, Donovan said, “We’re trying to get clarity, and once we have it we will answer the questions as best we can.”

“I think you have to take into consideration, our detectives, our officers, are bombarded with a lot of information…we are going through this information to make sure it is accurate so we can present the accurate facts,” said Lt. Det. Lance Burnham, in response to questions about whether Howard Center was contacted.

In a previous statement, Howard Center had said it was cooperating with the ongoing state police investigation into the events leading up to the fatal wrong-way driving crash. Donovan, who serves on the Howard Center board, affirmed their cooperation during his remarks last Friday.

Morgan True

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