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Obituary: Janie Cozzi, sophomore, & 4 friends

Janie Cozzi, a sophomore at Kimball Union Academy, a private boarding school in Meriden, New Hampshire, died just before midnight Saturday night, October 8, on Interstate 89 in Williston, Vermont, as she was traveling in a Volkswagen Jetta that was struck head-on by a pickup truck driving on the wrong side of the highway. She was 15.

Janie Cozzi, 15, died in a car crash Saturday. (school website)

Four of her friends—from Fayston, which was Janie’s hometown, Waterbury, and Moretown, Vermont—were also killed in the crash as they were on their way home from a concert in Burlington. All four attended Harwood Union Middle/High School in Duxbury: Eli Brookens, Liam Hale, Mary Harris, and Cyrus Zschau, all 16 years old. There were no other passengers in their car, and all five students were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mike Schafer, head of school at Kimball Union Academy, said the entire school family was absolutely heartbroken over the loss of a student, although supportive messages had been received from around the globe.

“This is an unprecedented tragedy; we have suffered a tremendous loss,” co-principal Amy Rex of Harwood Union said in a news release. “These students were vibrant members of our school community, actively involved and all with a promise for a bright future.”

The driver of the pickup truck was identified as Steven Bourgoin, 36. After he crashed into the students’ car, he was thrown from the pickup, but the students’ car caught fire, making escape impossible. Vermont State Police say Mr Bourgoin then stole a police SUV and crashed into seven more cars before he was taken to a hospital unconscious and in critical condition.

Janie’s soccer coach and European history teacher, Dan Weintraub, was quoted as saying she was a “gem of a human being” and a team leader. She had scored 26 goals so far this season and consistently put in a strong effort at practices, he said, such that “everybody followed her lead.”

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff until October 13 in honor of the five students, and a varsity soccer game at Harwood, where two of the students played, was cancelled.

Mr Bourgoin was accused in May of domestic violence, as his girlfriend said he hit her in the head and threatened to throw her down a flight of stairs. They have a 2-year-old child and previously lived in Massachusetts.

The reason or motive behind his driving on the wrong side of the road was not immediately reported, but at a press briefing two days after the crash, TJ Donovan, a prosecutor in the county where the crash occurred, said he “would not classify what occurred on Interstate 89 as an accident,” without elaborating any further.

Mr Shafer wrote:

The strength of the Kimball Union community has always been built on and derived from the love and care we have for each and every student. As we grieve and share our love of one another, we know our full community is alongside with us. Our hearts and prayers are with Janie’s family and friends, the four children and their families, our collective communities, and Kimball Union.

Fund established

The Mad River Valley Community Fund is a nonprofit organization that has responded to the needs of Mad River Valley residents since it was established in 1989. The organization has established the “Five Families Fund” that can serve as a conduit for local donations but is acting only to supplement other efforts.

“We are not in any way getting in the way of individual efforts,” the Burlington Free Press quoted Jon Jamieson, chairman of the board at the fund, as saying. “There are bake sales and movie premieres and T-shirt sales and potlucks and all kind of stuff going on. We feel that’s an important part of the community grieving process.”

This story was updated on October 13 to reflect the following change: Final arrangements for the victims have been linked in under their names. We have also added a reference to fundraising efforts to help the victims’ families.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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