The community of Hughson is mourning the loss of 17-year-old resident Mario Castro, who was killed in an early Monday freeway crash in Brentwood in Contra Costa County.
Castro died instantly in an overpass crash on Highway 4 just north of the John Muir Parkway. His 17-year-old female passenger, who was asleep before the 4:24 a.m. crash, was treated at a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. Her name was not available.
"He's going to be missed. He was a nice kid, really great kid," said a tearful Cindy Benham, the principal's secretary at Billy Joe Dickens Alternative High School where Castro attended in Hughson the past two years before recently leaving. "He never caused any problems. He had a great sense of humor. We liked him. He was well liked by his peers. We're very sorry and devastated."
Benham knew Castro since he arrived at the alternative high school as a sophomore. He was in his senior year.
The California Highway Patrol said Castro's white Toyota Tacoma veered out of the westbound lane - possibly while distracted or falling asleep - and struck a GMC 6000 utility truck headed in the opposite direction. Castro's pickup then spun out of control and flipped before landing onto the concrete barrier that shoulders the raised highway. Castro was killed instantly and his extraction of his body was complicated because the pickup's rear half precariously hung over Fairview Avenue while the cab was perched over the freeway. Rescue workers worked hours to delicately secure it from falling. Traffic was closed to both roadways during the removal.
CHP spokesman Officer John Fransen said the driver of the utility truck was not injured.
Castro's passenger, he noted, was "obviously quite shaken up." He said that she likely wouldn't have survived if the pickup had careened to the road below.
The passenger told the CHP that she was awakened in the crash only to discover that Castro was dead.
Fransen commented that the tragedy is only compounded on it occurring just three days before Christmas.
"I feel for the driver's family right before Christmas," said Fransen.
The crash resulted in the closure of Highway 4 from the time of the crash until clean-up operations were over at 8:30 a.m.
CHP investigators do not believe that alcohol or drugs were a factor but toxicology results will confirm if there were traces in Castro's system. Such tests generally take between six and eight weeks.
Benham said Castro's death is the third loss the Dickens school family has suffered in over three years. Two former students, Guillermo Gutron and Camillo Angulo Jr., were murdered on Sept. 4, 2011. The two were stabbed to death and locked up in a trunk of a car that was set on fire and left in an orchard on Charles Street north of Hatch Road.
"It's been rough," she said. "The losses are personal."