Ruben Castaneda recalls covering D.C.'s crack wars while an addict himself in new book

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) -- In 1989, Ruben Castaneda was a freshly minted reporter for the Washington Post who was assigned, in part, to cover D.C. nightside – which, at that time, meant focusing largely on the District’s crack cocaine epidemic and the rash of related killings.

He soon began breaking story after story, and soon thereafter would begin making buy after buy.

Castaneda had become addicted to crack.

He recounted that and more Thursday morning on NewsChannel 8’s Newstalk while promoting his new book about the ordeal titled, “S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C.”

Castaneda noted his addiction began with a single hit while working for a newspaper in Los Angeles and that gradually, combined with his fondness for alcohol, it became worse – especially after coming to the Post, which eventually found out about his problem and helped him enter rehab in 1991.

This all happened during some decidedly horrific times in the District during the late 80s and early 90s.

“Almost all of the violence was in the eastern half of the city, east of 16th Street Northwest,” Castaneda said, “so there were dozens of what I call, ‘combat zones,’ where drug crews basically owned streets and sometimes entire neighborhoods, and fought with guns for turf.

“And that escalated into this subculture or retaliation and also witness killings.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) remembers all too well, telling Newstalk earlier in the show that, “It was the worst of all worlds.”

Castaneda admits he helped fuel the chaos he was covering by making drug buys.

“I think my story, he said, “is a microcosm of what the city went through.”