Special report: Family alleges DHS failed child

By: Christy Dimond Email
By: Christy Dimond Email

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.

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  • by Anonymous on Apr 29, 2013 at 09:30 PM
    I have to say as i currently am witnessing a case that dhs is got going on. They are not in investagaing the cases that they should be and the ones that they are investagting their not following the giude lines the set. How is it right for them to be able to take a child simply on what someone calls and reports. i was always told and as well as dhs states they are only to take a child that is in danger and not being taking care of. So why are they taking children that are well taking care of and has never been abused? and then they don't file anything with the courts to document that they took the child which for anyone that dose not work for the state to just take a child like that we would get charged with kiddnapping. (In the case i've been watching my friend go through her daughter has been hurt by them ripping her away from her mouther who has always been there caring for her and abuse is far from an issue with the family. This little girl went from very happy cheerful baby girl to a little girl that has a blank lost stare after they took her from her mother and dhs is ok with this.
  • by Jen Location: Location on Apr 26, 2013 at 03:16 PM
    As a public school teacher, I am desperately frustrated with the system! Something has got to change or more children will die. There are so many kids and families that need intervention, yet it seems as though nothing is being done. I am not sure if the blame lies with DHS or the laws.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2013 at 12:41 PM
    I don't blame DHS; I blame Justin Keel! She didn't put all of what I said in the article...yes DHS didn't follow up, I also said the main person I'm mad at is MYSELF. For being blind and for believe Justin. DHS workers have a hard job. I just wish they would have been more aggressive with me....I wish a lot of things. I want to work with DHS and share my experiences with them so they can maybe focus on children that they can save. There is a lot of things everyone could have done differently, I'm not blaming anyone. Child Abuse is a community problem that need to be addressed and prevented. Owen wasn't the only child that died last year from abuse and I would like to say he was the last.
  • by Joe Location: Location on Apr 26, 2013 at 12:02 PM
    Are we really going to blame the system?! Sounds like Amber was in a relationship with a person who could not control his temper. How can a system that is already understaffed and underbudgeted keep track of every meth head mom and dad in the county? Your child was killed by a monster that you allowed to be responsible for YOUR child! Owen shouldnt have died but its not the systems fault. When you are pointing a finger at someone else, 3 are pointing back at YOU! TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELVES!
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