Man admits abuse in death of boy

Toddler suffered various injuries at hands of mother's boyfriend

Justin Keel

Owen Reak

Nineteen days before he was beaten hard enough to rupture his intestines, 19-month-old Owen Reak’s leg was broken in a case that was brought to the attention of the Mesa County Department of Human Services.

Justin Keel, 26, said Tuesday he caused both injuries, the former being deadly.

Keel pleaded guilty to a single count of child abuse resulting in death, which alleges Keel engaged “in a continued pattern” of abuse between March 1 and April 11, when the toddler died at Montrose Memorial Hospital.

Keel faces 24 to 36 years in prison under a plea agreement. The Mesa County District Attorney’s Office has agreed to dismiss a first-degree murder charge.

The Department of Human Services opened an investigation March 22 after Owen suffered a leg fracture while in the care of Keel, while Owen’s mother, Amber Reak, was working, according to an arrest affidavit. Keel was Amber Reak’s boyfriend, not the boy’s father.

A case manager was told about the March incident that Owen’s leg got stuck in his high chair, and that he was hurt when Keel “got Owen unstuck” from the chair.

“Case manager stated doctors stated the injury could have been caused in such a fashion and Ms. Reak agreed to no longer have Justin provide daycare for Owen,” the affidavit said.

Owen was allowed to stay with his mother and Keel.

Other incidents in the March 1 to April 11 timeframe were noted by investigators.

Amber Reak told investigators that around March 6 she came home and found Keel was “shaking” after Keel had been left alone with Owen. Keel said he spanked Owen while she was gone.

“Ms. Reak described later seeing bruises on Owen’s buttocks,” the affidavit said.

Authorities believe Owen was fatally injured on April 10.

According to the affidavit, Amber Reak told investigators she was showering that morning when she heard a pair of “booms,” emerged from the shower and saw Keel holding her son, the affidavit said. Keel explained Owen was “fussy” after falling off the bed.

Amber Reak said Owen was throwing up the morning of April 10 and she and Keel took the boy to Community Hospital, where his abdomen was X-rayed. Doctors thought Owen might have a case of stomach flu, but everything seemed fine, the affidavit said.

Owen was at the home of his grandparents in Montrose, where his grandfather, Eric Feely, called 911 the morning of April 11 and reported the boy was cold to the touch and stiff in his crib. He died at Montrose Memorial Hospital.

An autopsy showed he suffered internal bleeding caused by blows to the stomach, rupturing the intestines, the affidavit said.

Keel, who repeatedly denied hurting the boy, claimed a dog, a boxer named “Rusty,” may have hurt him.

Keel will be sentenced Feb. 15 by District Judge Valerie Robison.


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