EVERETT — What killed Josh Hooyboer is still a mystery.
His father is confident, however, it wasn’t the fault of the deputies who put him in handcuffs Dec. 28. They treated Josh with dignity and respect in the moments before he died at a family home south of Everett, in a trailer park off Highway 99, Dan Hooyboer said.
Josh, 40, grew up here. He was born small, about 5 pounds, 10 ounces. He filled out at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, a big frame that helped him to excel as a center and defensive end in football, a foul-happy power forward in basketball and a power-hitting first baseman in baseball at Shorewood High School, said his father, 70, who coached him. Josh would chat nonstop with the umpires at the plate, and his habit of knocking extra-base hits with two strikes earned him a nickname on the team: the Cardiac Kid.
He worked hard but struggled as a student, in large part due to his extreme dyslexia. He went on to land a job as a loan agent in Texas. He got married and had a daughter, and they moved back to the Seattle area, where he sold dental products.
Life got harder for Josh in his 30s, his father said. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Chemotherapy. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder. A divorce. Depression. Overdoses on synthetic marijuana and prescription pills. A voluntary 30-day drug rehab program he completed this fall.
“He was doing fine,” his father said. “He was really doing quite well.”
But over the past months Hooyboer had been seeing a neurologist for grand mal seizures that were becoming more regular. He went to the hospital for yet another seizure on Christmas Day. He spent a few nights at the Swedish campus in Edmonds, the same hospital where he was born. He was given a drug for the seizures, and sent home Dec. 28, his father said. Staff told him to take the pills before bed.
Hours later, he wasn’t feeling well. He had another seizure, and a sudden, irrational need to be outside. He talked in nonsense phrases, and kept repeating to his parents that he needed to go. Hooyboer pushed past his father to get to the door around 8:30 p.m. — a push that may have been interpreted, in an initial report, as an assault. It was part of the medical emergency, not a malicious act, his father said. His son was erratic, out of his mind. He fell and crawled out the door, then crashed off the steps into a pile of garden tools. During a seizure he would lose equilibrium. He’d have no balance at all. He crawled across the driveway, toward a carport. His parents called for help.
“We didn’t want him to wander around half out of his mind,” Dan Hooyboer said.
Sheriff’s deputies found him face-down on the asphalt, trying to lift himself, said the father, a witness. They handcuffed him. A deputy placed a knee on Josh’s right shoulder. He patted his head, and begged him to take it easy. Josh’s shorts had slipped down from his waist. A deputy pulled the shorts up, hardly glancing down.
“They couldn’t have been kinder, to tell you the truth,” his father said.
Moments later the deputies — both new to the sheriff’s office, hired about a year ago — noticed Josh had stopped struggling. They checked for a pulse, and found none. They performed CPR. Paramedics showed up almost immediately. They could not revive him. Josh Hooyboer was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m., according to a statement released by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team.
The deputies were put on paid administrative leave, as is standard for any death in police custody. They’re expected to return to duty next week, said Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. The case is being investigated by the team of detectives from agencies around the county, known as SMART.
The cause of death has not been confirmed. Some medical tests can take weeks or months to complete.
According to Dan Hooyboer, an initial autopsy revealed bruises and scrapes from crawling across the asphalt. It also revealed two things Josh’s parents didn’t know.
First, he had a bruise on his brain that was not fresh, the father said. He’s not sure how or when that happened, but he wonders if it could help explain his son’s seizures or mental health struggles.
Second, his son had an enlarged heart. That was less surprising.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb