Meet Washington's DUI King

A new state law may finally catch up with Bob Castle.

The case files describe him, at times, as something of a garbage-talking bobblehead drunk. Unlicensed and uninsured, he likes to weave down the highways with a trusty container of Aftershock cinnamon schnapps at his side. The cops can chase, ram, and Taser him, and the courts can give him the max—but will anything get the DUI king to walk home from the bar? By the look of things, if Bob Castle's going to hit the bricks, it will likely be with the fender of his car."He once told me he doesn't have a drinking problem, he has a driving problem," says Robyn King, who has known Castle 30 years.Some of this was undoubtedly playing on the mind of Seattle Municipal Court Judge George Holifield on the day in 1994 when he handed down a sentence as stiff as Robert Lewis Castle's last drink: One year in jail for drunk driving, the judge told the ruddy-faced, then-38-year-old Lynnwood construction worker, sometime marijuana grower, and convicted felon. For good measure, Holifield threw in 90 days for driving without a license, added $6,000 in fines, and, before signing the sentencing sheet in front of him, wrote in even more conditions and comments, such as: "No work release, no home detention—many DUI convictions."Castle, short and thin with a jutting chin and biting stare, waited quietly as his public defender continued to plead for a suspended sentence and alcoholism treatment."Let me put it to you up front," the judge responded. "Even if you were to provide me information that the defendant was a saint, I wouldn't let him out of jail." In his 15 years as a judge, Holifield said, he'd never seen a jury come back so quickly with a guilty verdict as in this case. Castle needed to get the message. "And the reason it's punishment is he's had six or seven different times to correct this problem. Or at least if he's going to have a drinking problem, not drive. That was his alternative. The only thing we can do is to keep him off the roads for as much time as we can."From 1985 to 1994, on some of the many nights both he and his car were gassed up, Castle was arrested seven times in three counties for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was convicted five times, with two charges pled down to reckless driving and physical control of a car while intoxicated. He had a roster of other traffic offenses, some of them alcohol-related, such as driving with an open liquor container, and was adjudged a habitual traffic offender in 1992, when his license was revoked for five years, after which he simply drove without it.In court, Holifield asked Castle how much time he'd done for his DUIs."At one time, 10 months," Castle answered."And where was that?" Holifield continued.Castle: "That was in Seattle, King County."Holifield: "You didn't do any time in Snohomish County though, did you?"Castle: "Four months."The judge asked Castle how many times he'd been in treatment."Just one," Castle replied.Holifield: "Did it ever occur to you that you needed to kick your habit?"Castle: "Yes."Holifield: "Why didn't you do it, then?"Castle: "Pretty hard.""It is easier to do the time in jail?" the judge asked."No," replied Castle. "That's even harder."Flash forward to the first Tuesday of last month. Here, once again, sits Robert Castle, now 51, in his jail jumpsuit. He looks up from the defense table on the 11th floor of the Seattle Municipal Court building and watches a familiar figure lumber in behind the bench.Seated at his elevated perch, Judge Holifield scans the court, then stops and seems to shake his head when he sees Castle. Still, he couldn't be too surprised; this latest case has been before the court for 19 months, with Castle facing four charges: driving without a license, resisting arrest, refusing to stop, and—an oldie but goodie—DUI. His exact breath-alcohol-content test reading hasn't yet been entered into evidence. But he topped the legal limit of .08, prosecutors say, and fought with his arresting officers.At least two dozen court hearings were set or held as the case dragged on from September 2006, but Castle had yet to be tried. He demanded jury trials seven times, and all were cancelled. Released from jail on personal recognizance, Castle sought delays, asked for another judge, and had "witness problems," he said. The wheels of justice never got traction, and after he changed attorneys (all public defenders) several times, Castle pulled a no-show in court. An arrest warrant was issued on Dec. 27 last year. He was arrested two days later—when stopped for his 16th DUI.That's correct: 16. In the 14 years since Holifield tried to send that stiff message, Castle had responded with a strong kick of his own: nine additional drunk-driving charges. Since 1985, he has averaged roughly one DUI every year-and-a-half, and in six of those years got two DUIs annually. Along the way, he smashed up a variety of vehicles, destroyed property, and slightly injured himself and a few others—for example, in December, when, while being chased by the state patrol, he smashed into two cars in Northgate, shaking up their drivers. (Because his accidents have been relatively minor, Castle has never been charged with vehicular assault.)With the aid of sympathetic judges, ineffective laws, and incomplete court records, Castle has been a chronic menace, cruising mostly under the radar. The Washington State Patrol says that despite his boozy rap sheet, he hasn't made the agency's unofficial list of notorious drunk drivers. "This guy slipped through the cracks," says trooper Jeff Merrill.Today, with word spreading, Castle has weaved his way into becoming Washington's reigning DUI king. Sometimes, when arrested, he'll laugh and tell the cops he'll be back soon. And he usually is.In the view of the American Medical Association, alcoholism is a disease. But as Judge Holifield was trying to tell Castle 14 years ago, walking or taking a cab home from the bar is a partial cure—you at least pose less of a risk to others.Yet it was only a year after that 1994 lecture that Castle was convicted of physical control while drunk behind the wheel of his parked '78 Caddy, preparing to drive away after taking a leak on Olive Way in Seattle. (A witness also said Castle fumbled about for five minutes before he could unlock his door). When police arrived, Castle refused a field sobriety test; he later declined to take a breath-alcohol test and called a female SPD officer a "stupid ass bitch slut," vowing to "get" her.Judging by his driving record, Castle appears to have adopted a consistent legal strategy each time the cops confronted him, regularly refusing to take breath tests (he refuses even to sign the refusal forms). Furthermore, he doesn't have to sweat the automatic revocation of his license for refusing the tests, since it was revoked a decade ago; consequently, he doesn't have to worry about an incriminating reading being entered into evidence. He's made regular use of his right to an attorney, almost always a public defender. But, according to expletive-filled police reports, he hasn't quite mastered the art of remaining silent, even when it might spare him considerable pain. During one recent arrest, when told to lie on the ground or be Tasered, he answered, "Go ahead." A trooper thereupon obliged.His cases move at a snail's pace, bogged down by legal maneuvers, failure to appear in court, and bail jumping. An abstract of his driving record is an extraordinary list of dates, places, and charges, although it doesn't begin to detail his complete recidivist history as spelled out in volumes of court files from Tacoma to Everett. Castle's abundant charges often overlap: He has four open DUI cases in two counties at the moment. As a result, a judge may not have Castle's complete saga in front of him when it comes time to hand down an appropriate sentence.In such cases, Castle might ask for a deferred sentence and claim he's finally willing to seek treatment, as he did in 1997. Even though Castle had 11 DUIs at that point, a kindly Snohomish District Court judge included treatment as part of a deferred prosecution—which was later revoked following his 12th DUI arrest.Besides his 16 DUI arrests since 1985, Castle has run up half-a-dozen other alcohol-related offenses and at least 30 additional traffic violations, including 15 for driving without a license. His indifference to revocation is near-legendary. In a February 2007 Snohomish County case, Castle was convicted of drunk driving and having no valid license. After a sentencing date was set, Castle walked out of the Everett courthouse with two prosecutors secretly following him. They trailed him down side streets to a parking space two blocks away. There, as they suspected, Castle hopped in his Jeep and drove off.What turned the 5-foot-9, 135-pound, blond bricklayer's assistant into a colossal highway hazard? "That's the million-dollar question," says Robyn King, "and there's probably no one thing, other than alcohol." As a teen, King says, Castle moved with some buddies to Seattle from San Diego, befriended her son, and became a sort of adopted family member. Castle has stayed off and on at King's Lynnwood rambler for much of his adult life; almost all his court papers, current cases included, list her address as his home. But several years back, she kicked him out for good because of his boozing. He has also lived in Marysville and downtown Seattle "so he could walk to the bars," says King. "But I guess that didn't work out too well."I liked him, and he always held down a job in construction—a hod carrier," King adds. "And [he] was an excellent worker, even in jail, where he'd work in the kitchen. He would go for months without a drink and seemed to do fine."Castle's closest family members, including his mother, are in Kentucky, King says. He was never married, she says, but Castle did father two children. Snohomish court records show he denied they were his until a 1981 paternity suit proved otherwise. (In 1995, he was ordered to pay $10,000 in back child support and found to have civilly defrauded his children and the state by hiding some assets.) "He didn't have this [drinking and driving] problem in his younger years," says King in a regretful voice. "Every once in a while I feel sorry for him." But he's "trying to prove something," she adds. "Maybe that he can go to prison, I guess."Castle might still be out cruising today had a trooper not dropped him with a Taser just before the New Year for his 16th DUI arrest. According to the State Patrol, on December 29 a drunken Castle in a Ford pickup came careening down an I-5 off ramp in Northgate just after noon and knocked one car into another, then sped off. Nearby troopers chased him with lights and sirens for almost 25 blocks before Castle abruptly stopped, jumped out, and began fighting with officers. The fun ended with his second Taser takedown in less than a year.He's now in his fourth month of confinement at King County Jail, held on $50,000 bail. In his immediate future, besides three hots and a cot, are four pending municipal and superior court cases in Seattle and Everett. Through his public defender, Joe Richards of the Associated Counsel for the Accused, Castle declined to be interviewed in jail.So far, Castle has never been sentenced to more than a year on his DUI convictions, since drunk driving has always been a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 365 days. Incomplete records make it difficult to calculate the time he's actually served, although it wasn't until 1994 that he got his first full-year sentence, and a number of the DUIs since then have resulted in reduced charges and deferred sentences.But there's a new state law, making some drunk-driving convictions a felony, that's intended to steer the Bob Castles of Washington off roadways, into prison, and perhaps into effective treatment as well."The idea was to get these drivers out of their cars, of course," says Rep. Patricia Lantz, a Gig Harbor Democrat who sponsored the successful legislation. "But a longer incarceration is also necessary to provide effective alcohol or substance abuse treatment in custody, which, at minimum, takes 14 months."Lantz's 2007 amendment to state DUI laws took effect last July. As in 44 other states, repeat DUI offenders can now be sentenced to up to five years in a state prison as an alternative to a year's stint in county jails. (Some states have set sentences at even higher levels: An Ohio man with 19 DUIs recently received eight years in prison, and a Texas man with 10 DUIs just got 60 years). The State Patrol estimates that about 100 cases of felony DUI are likely to be filed annually statewide (by contrast, prosecutors bring about 40,000 misdemeanor charges of DUI and physical control each year). In King County, for instance, prosecutors have filed seven felony DUI cases since last July—four of them in the first three months of 2008. Among the defendants is a repeat offender with nine DUIs (see related article).Yet despite more than two decades of DUI convictions, Castle isn't felony-eligible. Under Lantz's law, anyone with four or more DUI strikes within 10 years can be sentenced as a felon for the fifth conviction. But in Castle's case, by the luck of the calendar, several of his arrests fall outside the 10-year clock. At present, only a 1998 physical control conviction and a 2006 Snohomish County DUI appear to be on the table.Still, if found guilty in the pending Seattle and Snohomish DUI cases, Castle would then have the four convictions within a decade required to make him felony-eligible on the DUI after that. And he's already been arrested for the fifth one: the December Northgate incident. King County prosecutors are purposely delaying filing charges against him in that case, waiting to see if he hits the magic four DUI convictions beforehand. Officially, the Northgate case "is still under review," says county prosecutor's office spokesperson Dan Donohoe.Meanwhile, though his two open Snohomish County DUI cases are misdemeanors, prosecutors there decided to add two counts of eluding a police vehicle, a Class C felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine. According to prosecutors, in one of those cases, after a drunken Castle blew through red lights at 60 mph trying to ditch officers, a state trooper stopped him with a PIT (Pursuit Immobilization Technique) maneuver: a tail-end nudge by a patrol car that causes the fleeing vehicle to spin out of control. In the other case, Castle allegedly failed to stop until he hit a dead-end street. A Snohomish County deputy sheriff said Castle jumped out, came at him, was arrested at gunpoint, and, still resisting, was then Tasered.Castle was convicted of both misdemeanor DUI and felony eluding in the PIT maneuver case, but has yet to be sentenced, as he failed to show for the hearing in December. Prosecutors are asking for at least a 29-month prison term, plus 365 days for the DUI, to be served consecutively. In his sentencing recommendation, deputy prosecutor Edirin Okoloko calls Castle a "grave danger" in light of his "astounding criminal history." Adds Okoloko: "The time for leniency from this or any other court is long passed."Before he failed to show, Castle had claimed to have entered an outpatient recovery program in Lynnwood in November. Attempting to mitigate his sentence, he told the court he'd be "totally" abstaining from alcohol for at least a year. The next month he was picked up for DUI arrest No. 16.If Castle is found guilty on the other felony eluding charge, it would mark his third felony conviction (Castle's crimes do not qualify under the state's Three Strikes law, which can lead to life in prison). In 1992, with five DUI arrests to his credit, Castle was convicted of manufacturing drugs with intent to sell after authorities busted his 100-plant home-grow marijuana business in Marysville. Using the alias George Rollin Dukes Jr., Castle originally failed to show for trial, jumping bail. Once in custody, he pled guilty to the drug charge in exchange for a 45-day sentence, was fined $1,800, and was put on 12 months probation. Over the next six years, he failed to report as required to community corrections and pay his full tab, leading to a 30-day suspended sentence. He did, however, continue to drink and drive, racking up four more DUI charges in that period.Rep. Lantz says she's sorry to hear the prolific Castle is not felony-eligible under the new DUI law, since he could be the statute's poster boy. "When we first drew up the law," she says, "we set the bar at five convictions in seven years. Then we revised it to ten years, to extend it, to get the hard-core offenders like him."Nevertheless, as prosecutions begin to mount, Lantz is upbeat about the statute, and sees promise in another new DUI law, passed this year, which requires license revocation for first-time offenders, who will be provided a special limited license and must equip their cars with an ignition interlock device, into which a driver must blow a sober breath before the car can be started. "This way," says Lantz, "we can be sure the person is not going to drive drunk, but he'll still have a license to get to work and to pick up the kids at day care."Other new DUI amendments didn't make the cut in Olympia this year, including sobriety checkpoints and "scarlet" (fluorescent yellow, actually) license plates that would be displayed on a convicted drunk driver's vehicle. So far, however, laws old or new haven't seemed to stop road warriors such as Castle. For close to a quarter-century, pedal to the metal, he has repeatedly outdistanced justice. And he may not be done yet.On March 4, with Castle's much-delayed 2006 Seattle DUI case heading into its second year, Judge Holifield sat down with the municipal court calendar in front of him. It said Castle, after 25 assorted hearings, was supposed to go to trial that day.Except Holifield had just been told another delay was needed."All right, what are we going to do with this case?" Holifield asked. "Is this an Ann Marie Gordon case?""It is, your honor," said public defender Richards, seated next to Castle.Ann Marie Gordon is the former manager of the Washington State Toxicology Lab, which prepares and tests a solution used in the DataMaster (successor to the Breathalyzer) breath-test instruments. Gordon quit last year following allegations that she lied about the accuracy of testing, putting perhaps thousands of DUI cases in legal limbo. Courts are still deciding how to deal with the possibly tainted breath evidence from that period, all of which, defense attorneys contend, should be tossed.In the meantime, cases sit and wait, Castle's among them: Judge Holifield tentatively set his next trial date for May 6, and Castle returned to his cell. But if the DataMaster evidence is eventually thrown out, he could avoid conviction, thus heading off that potential felony charge for DUI arrest No. 16.How about that? One of the few times Bob Castle agreed to blow into a tube, it blew back a kiss.randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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