Castano admits guilt in best friend Sampson’s death

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

Joseph Castano admitted on Thursday that he was driving drunk when he crashed into a pole and killed his best friend, Craig Sampson, Jr., just after midnight in Massachusetts on April 23.

 Castano, who is 20 and grew up with Sampson in Williston, pleaded guilty to “motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of liquor” as well as manslaughter. He was visiting Sampson, who was then a sophomore at Endicott College, when the crash occurred.

 “Two families are devastated, one young life is lost and another forever changed, all because of alcohol,” said Essex Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.  “As the holidays approach and college students come home for break, I urge parents to talk with their children about drinking and driving and encourage them to ensure they have safe transportation home. This tragedy was entirely avoidable.”

Castano, who was a sophomore studying business at the University of Vermont before the crash occurred, was sentenced to three and half years in a Massachusetts House of Corrections, followed by three years of probation, during which he is ordered not to drive, to remain drug- and alcohol-free and to submit to random screening tests.

A motor vehicle homicide conviction also results in an automatic 15-year loss of license, according to the district attorney’s office.

 In his initial sentencing argument, Essex Assistant District Attorney James Gubitose had requested a 4 to 7 year state prison sentence, stating that while the defendant did not intend to kill his friend, he made a series of choices that led to his friend’s death.

Gubitose told the court that the defendant was seen drinking heavily by witnesses and it was later determined that his blood alcohol level was .22 percent.

After an altercation with a student at Endicott, the DA’s office testified, Castano got into a BMW with the victim and drove away at a high rate of speed on Hale Street adjacent to the Endicott College campus. He lost control of the vehicle and it slid sideways down the road, crashing into a utility pole on the passenger side, killing Sampson.

At a lobby hearing on Oct. 25, Castano offered an apology to Sampson’s family, many of whom were present to testify to Judge Timothy Feeley about the dramatic loss. Feeley then offered Castano the plea deal.

“It was my poor judgment, ignorance and carelessness that has caused so much pain,” he told the judge.

Castano’s attorney, Randy Chapman, could not be reached immediately for comment. Castano was taken into custody on Thursday, following the hearing.