Williston driver pleads not guilty to criminal charges in Craig Sampson’s death

by Jess Wisloski
Observer staff

Williston resident Joseph Castano, 20, entered a plea of not guilty to a number of criminal charges during his arraignment in a Massachusetts courthouse Tuesday that were related to a deadly car crash over the weekend in which he was the driver.

Craig Sampson, 19, also of Williston, died in the Saturday morning crash in Beverly, Mass., and Castano was hospitalized with injuries. Both men were college sophomores, and had grown up together in town. Those who knew them said they were best friends.

Castano posted $25,000 bail at Salem District Court and was permitted to return to Vermont. He is set to return to court June 7.

Joseph Castano's yearbook photo. (Facebook)
Joseph Castano’s yearbook photo. (Facebook)

The charges, which include criminal negligence for driving a car under the influence, came after prosecutors said his Castano’s blood-alcohol level was found to be almost three times the limit at which it’s considered safe to drive.

Contacted for comment, a woman at Castano’s home said he was not talking to anyone, and no information about a lawyer was found by press time. Sampson’s family did not return requests for comment.

At around 12:15 a.m. on April 23, Castano crashed his father’s BMW while speeding, prosecutors said. The car smashed into a utility pole across from a student dormitory on Hale Street of Endicott College’s campus, which Sampson attended.

Neither police nor the Essex County District Attorney’s office had information as to where the men had been, where they were going, or how the alcohol was obtained but the DA said the investigation was ongoing.  It was the second alcohol-related crash on Endicott’s campus in a week, the college president said in news reports.

Castano is a finance major at University of Vermont.

At Champlain Valley Union High School, where both men graduated in 2014, Principal Adam Bunting said there was a somber feeling, especially in Bunting’s own case. Sampson was a member of a house he had directed, he said.

“He was highly respected, and well liked both by students and faculty. He brought a goodness to the things that he did, and a spark for life, and a joyfulness that people were attracted to,” said Bunting.

Read more:  Craig Robert Sampson, III obituary >

Although the loss was of Sampson, he said that faculty and staff consider the death a tragedy on both sides and are thinking of the families of the men, both integral members of the athletics community. Castano was a talented soccer player, and Sampson was accomplished in football.

Craig Sampson, III of Williston passed April 23, 2016.
Craig Sampson, III of Williston passed April 23, 2016.

“Joseph was well liked by students and teachers,” added Bunting. “I think this tragedy has rocked the community on many levels as a result.

While advisories were dedicating special conversation time around Sampson’s death, Bunting said there’s also counselors devoted to talking to students who need support.

He has noticed that other students are rallying around the 19-year-olds survivors, since several siblings attend CVU, and said that “Kindness Awareness Week,” an annual event at the school, had taken on a new meaning in memory of Sampson.

“We’ve dedicated this week’s acts of goodness to one another in Craig’s memory. And also, in the memory or idea that at kindness is often built on strength.”

Visiting hours will be held Friday 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a funeral service on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Essex Alliance Church.