Crime

Prosecutors charge man in 2012 fatal wreck near Carbonado

It took more than three years and a job opportunity for Samuel Hoffer to come clean about the night his friend died in a wreck near Carbonado.

Certain things were known from the beginning.

Hoffer, now 24, picked Joseph Castro up the night of Nov. 7, 2012, and the men went cruising at Evans Creek Off-Road Vehicle Park.

At some point, Hoffer’s 1988 Toyota pickup went off a cliff and rolled about two dozen times down a steep, rocky embankment before landing on its top near a wooded area.

Hoffer hiked barefoot in the darkness for 8 miles before he was able to flag down help in the small town near Mount Rainier National Park.

By the time search and rescue crews found the wreckage the next morning, 23-year-old Castro was dead. His body was found 300 feet from the truck.

Investigators believed Castro started walking to get help but collapsed.

Neither man wore a seat belt.

Hoffer told investigators that the crash happened after he came around a corner and was startled by a deer in the road, so he swerved, over-corrected and the pickup slid off the cliff.

Detectives determined the truck was going 28 miles per hour, which was “fast for the corner and roadway conditions,” records show.

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies suspected alcohol was involved because empty and full cans of beer littered the wreckage. Hoffer said he had one drink on the way to pick up Castro but said his friend was the one drinking for the remainder of the night.

Charges were never filed.

Castro’s mother published an obituary in The Seattle Times describing her son as a BMX fan who loved hiking, snowboarding and sitting by the river in front of a campfire.

“Joe enjoyed life to the fullest, full of adventure and fearless,” she wrote. “Although Joe was taken from us too soon, we are grateful for the 23 action-packed years we did have.”

Fast forward to June 2015, when Hoffer applied to be a wildlife officer with the Muckleshoot Tribe.

A retired sheriff’s deputy was in charge of hiring wildlife officers. As part of the background check Hoffer needed to complete for the job, the retired deputy arranged for him to be questioned about the accident during his polygraph.

Hoffer then told a different story about Castro’s death.

He said he was drunk when he crashed the truck, there was no deer in the road and his friend wasn’t alive when Hoffer went to get help.

“When contacted by Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies he stated that he lied and said that he’d swerved to miss a deer that ran out in front of him,” according to charging papers.

“He stated that his friend was actually ejected from the vehicle and died before assistance arrived.”

On Monday, prosecutors charged Hoffer with vehicular homicide. He is to be arraigned March 28.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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