Joseph Castro’s loved ones desperately want to know what happened the night he died in a wreck near Carbonado.
For three years after his death, Castro’s family believed the 23-year-old was thrown from his friend’s pickup truck after it rolled down a steep, rocky embankment at Evans Creek Off-Road Vehicle Park.
The driver, Samuel Hoffer, hiked barefoot in the darkness for eight miles to get help. He told deputies he swerved to avoid a deer, over-corrected, and his 1998 Toyota pickup slid off the cliff and landed on its top.
By the time search and rescue crews found the wreckage, Castro was dead. His body was 300 feet from the truck.
That was Nov. 7, 2012.
But when Hoffer, now 25, applied to be a wildlife officer with the Muckleshoot Tribe in June 2015, he was asked about Castro’s death before a polygraph.
That’s when he admitted there was no deer in the road, but that he’d been drinking and driving.
On Friday, Hoffer pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, reckless driving, driving under the influence and failure to remain at an injury accident.
He was sentenced to 1 year, 8 months in prison.
Although Hoffer spoke briefly at his sentencing, he did not offer more details about the accident that killed Castro.
That further hurt Castro’s mother and other family members who’d hoped for an explanation so they could make sense of his death.
Ten of Castro’s loved ones wrote letters to the court asking Hoffer to be held accountable and pleading with him to come clean.
“I can never get my friend back, but I hope we can get peace of mind if we finally hear the truth,” wrote one of Castro’s childhood friends.
Another friend wrote that Castro’s mother now suffers from depression, and she quit her job because she was so consumed with finding out what happened to her son.
“I don’t want leniency, I want justice for Joe,” wrote one of Castro’s uncles. “Joe was taken far too soon by the careless acts of Sam.”
Castro was described by his loved ones as an easygoing man who made others smile, a country boy who loved BMX, snowboarding, hiking and sitting by a river in front of a campfire.
Investigators initially believed alcohol was involved in the crash because empty and full cans of beer were strewn among the wreckage.
Hoffer told them he had one drink on the way to pick up Castro but said Castro was the one drinking the rest of the night.
A retired deputy who harbored doubts about the accident arranged to have Hoffer questioned about it when he applied to be a wildlife officer. He was hired in May as an officer candidate, records show.
The director of the Muckleshoot Wildlife Program and two Tribal Council members were among those who wrote the court on Hoffer’s behalf.
They painted him as a devoted father and responsible worker who was tormented by the death of his friend.
“His regard and appreciation for the law is unwavering and a testament to his character,” wrote one Tribal Council member.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653