GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- Beth Feely can’t sleep through the night without waking up just before 4:00 a.m., haunted. It was around that time on April 11, 2012 when she awoke to check on her 18-month old grandson Owen Reak.
Owen, who a doctor diagnosed with the flu earlier that day, wasn’t breathing. Feely called 911.
The coroner arrived at Feely’s Montrose home and pronounced Owen dead. According to his autopsy report, Owen did not die from the flu. The coroner ruled Owen’s death homicide, and declared he died from blunt force non-accidental trauma to the abdomen. The coroner identified ten bruises and scrapes on Owen while performing the autopsy.
Justin Keel, then-boyfriend of Owen’s mother, pled guilty in December 2012 to child abuse resulting in death and was sentenced to the maximum 36 years in prison.
“He hit him so hard it was consistent with that of a high speed auto accident,” Feely said.
Feely said Owen’s death could have been prevented. At the time of his death, Owen was the center of a child abuse investigation by Mesa County Department of Human Services.
The investigation started a month before Owen’s death when Owen suffered a broken leg while in the care of Keel. Owen’s mom, Amber Reak, said a caseworker came to her home to investigate the incident but stayed for less than 30 minutes.
“She called the next day and said [Keel] couldn’t be a caretaker for six weeks… Owen died three weeks later,” Amber said. “She never checked up on us, she never called back, she never did anything.”
Amber admits she was blind to the possibility of her boyfriend abusing Owen. She wishes, however, he case worker would have confronted her about it.
“They deal with child abuse everyday,” Amber said. “They should’ve been more aggressive and told me, ‘hey, this guy could be abusing your kid.’”
Feely is also concerned with DHS’ involvement in the case. As soon as she learned about the child abuse investigation, she said she was immediately concerned and tried to reach out to Owen’s assigned caseworker. Her phone records indicate she and her husband made eight calls to the caseworker in the week leading up to Owen’s death. She said none of those calls were returned.
“It's incredibly frustrating because we feel like his death could've been avoided had they done something to respond to us because we were deeply concerned about his safety,” Feely said.
A child fatality review on Owen’s case recognizes the family made three calls to the caseworker on April 10, 2012—the day before Owen died—but does not acknowledge any previous calls.
Mesa County Department of Human Services Director Tracey Garchar said the department did everything they could have to prevented Owen’s death.
“We have looked at every single child fatality that’s occurred because of abuse or neglect that’s occurred in the last two years and there’s absolutely nothing we could’ve done to have prevented that death,” he said.
Still, Feely said for unknown reasons, the caseworker would not respond to their inquiries about Owen’s safety.
“[The caseworker] knew we had called her the seven days prior to Owen's death and tried to reach her and tried to get something done on Owen's behalf to ensure his safety and it wasn't done,” Feely said. “Owen should not have died. He shouldn’t have.”
Part two of this KKCO 11 News special report airs Monday, April 29th at 5:30 and examines the inter-workings of the Department of Human Services. A former caseworker shares her story and reveals why her ethics led her to walk away from her career with the division.