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13 Investigates: Corrections officer dies after falling asleep behind the wheel; Family says work schedule was factor in crash

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- With the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) struggling to fill hundreds of jobs, workers tasked with overseeing the state's most dangerous criminals are putting in more and more overtime hours.

13 Investigates found the number of vacancies for corrections officers in the state of Colorado more than quintupled from June 2021 to June 2022.

The family of one of those workers told 13 Investigates they believe the long hours and difficult work schedule was a factor in his untimely death.

Matthew Beauman, 34, was a corrections officer at the Limon Correctional Facility with aspirations to advance his law enforcement career. At least five times a week, Matthew drove an hour and twenty minutes along Highway 24 from Colorado Springs to the small, eastern plains town.

It was a hard job, but his family said he was dedicated to it.

“He used to call me in the past (while driving) when he was really, really tired, and he would call me and be like, OK, keep me awake. So we talk about anything," Breana Beauman, Matthew's fiancee told 13 Investigates.

It was the morning of Feb. 27, 2022, when Matthew didn't make it home.

A report from the Colorado State Patrol said Matthew's car drifted across the center line of Hwy. 24 and collided head-on with a pickup truck.

The trooper said in the report that the driver of the smaller car "is believed to have fallen asleep on his way home after working an overnight shift at the Limon Correctional Facility."

Colorado State Patrol report

The driver of the pickup truck was taken to an area hospital and survived. Matthew, however, wasn't so fortunate. He was pronounced dead along Hwy. 24, just west of Calhan.

Matthew's family said he was hired by the Colorado Department of Corrections in Aug. 2021. His family explained that becoming a corrections officer was only a stepping stone for the 34-year-old. His real goal was to become a police officer.

“He thought if he worked hard and showed that he was dependable and reliable in that job, it would help him get into the police academy and the police field," Breana said. "He took it very seriously.”

According to numbers obtained through a public records request, there were six open corrections officer positions at Limon Correctional Facility in June of 2021. Just eight months later, two days before Matthew's death, there were 51 open corrections officer positions.

Courtesy of the Beauman family

Just a few months into his job, Matthew's fiancee said he was working additional overtime shifts on a regular basis. His schedule consisted of 12 hours and 16 hours straight at least once or twice a week.

"He honestly would get told to you know, you have to stay today, you know, and you never know when he was getting out," Breana said. “When he noticed a couple of people were definitely going to get picked for overtime again that week, he would volunteer. He would feel like 'You had it already yesterday. Go home. Go home to your wife and kids.' That's just the person he was. He had the biggest heart. He was selfless."

Matthew died on a Sunday. According to his timecard obtained through the CDOC by 13 Investigates, Matthew worked two 8.5-hour shifts from Friday to Saturday morning and Saturday to Sunday morning. He did not work from 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning until Friday evening. In February, Matthew worked 18 shifts for 163.25 standard work hours and worked 22.75 overtime hours in total.

Matthew's family believes his work schedule in the weeks and months leading up to the Feb. 27 fatal wreck was a contributing factor.

“He looked like the life was sucked out of him in pictures when he was in his uniform," Brenda Beauman, Matthew's mother, told 13 Investigates. "There was one time I messaged him and asked 'What's going on? Why do you look that way in pictures?' He said, 'what you're seeing is pure exhaustion. They're working us to death.'”

Picking up the slack

Numbers obtained by 13 Investigates through a public records request show that in late June 2021, across all 29 CDOC facilities, the total CDOC employee vacancy number sat at 476. At the time, there were 80 open corrections officer positions in the state of Colorado.

One year later, there were 1,192 job vacancies throughout the prison system in Colorado. Four-hundred-sixty-eight corrections officer jobs were open as well. That's an increase of 585% for corrections officer openings.

Data obtained through CDOC

As vacancies rose, a rise in the number of overtime hours worked appears to coincide.

Data obtained by 13 Investigates show that in June 2021 across all of their facilities, CDOC employees worked 63,603 overtime hours. Then six months later in January 2022, that number jumped to 77,191 hours. By September 2022, CDOC employees worked 85,209 overtime hours.

The numbers for overtime hours worked are sporadic, but there is a steady increase from June 2021 to September 2022.

Data obtained through CDOC

“When you’re getting off and trying to get out of the door. They can say they do need somebody to stay over,” Erik Justesen, a corrections officer at San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo County, told 13 Investigates.

Justesen has worked in the CDOC for 18 years.

The corrections officer told 13 Investigates in September he was involved in two separate lawsuits against the Colorado Department of Corrections that are unrelated to working hours.

He explained that prison staff cannot function without a single necessary staff member, which is why corrections officers are required to work overtime.

“If nobody volunteers it becomes mandatory at that point," Justesen said. "Most of the time you are looking at a 16-hour shift. It’s exhausting, it’s very tiring, you don’t get to see your family. You don’t get to see your friends. It’s basically eat sleep work, eat sleep work.”

According to Colorado WINS, the union representing hundreds of prison employees in Colorado, what happened to Beauman is a trend. The union told 13 Investigates it believes there's a direct correlation between the CDOC policies when it comes to mandated overtime and a string of vehicle wrecks involving prison employees following their shifts.

Three wrecks occurred in 2022 involving CDOC employees following a shift. Two were fatal, while COWINS said a third ended with a CDOC employee being paralyzed.

In a statement provided to 13 Investigates, Colorado WINS said:

We believe mandatory overtime is leading to fatal accidents in addition to other serious issues including physical and mental health, substance use, relationship stability, and overall well-being.

Colorado WINS

In a statement to 13 Investigates, the CDOC said its top priority is hiring and retaining employees.

The Department of Corrections wants to see every open position in our department filled. Facility safety, hiring, and retention are our top priorities. Unfortunately, the current job market has made it incredibly challenging to recruit and retain staff. 

The Department is utilizing every option within our power, including recruiting people from other parts of the U.S. and holding fast track hiring events where people receive a job offer the same day. Additionally, the Department is developing hiring and  retention incentives for staff, as well as other strategies including reducing the hiring age from 21 to 18, and adjusting operations where possible. We will continue to look for every solution we can to solve the staffing crisis and support our staff as we navigate through these challenging times.

Throughout the month of July, two of the State’s most impacted agencies, the Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services, set out to hire 300 people in 30 days. This goal was met and exceeded with 530 job offers accepted between the two agencies. 

The Colorado Department of Corrections

The CDOC said every facility creates its own mandatory overtime policies, and each CDOC facility operates in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when scheduling employees.

Federal law does not limit the number of hours an employee may work. Some CDOC facilities are now changing from the standard 8-hour shifts to ten or even 12-hour shifts with more days off to limit overtime.

Colorado WINS says they are asking the CDOC for a standard OT policy and mandatory rest period between shifts.

13 Investigates asked the CDOC about Matthew's death, and the family's belief that his work schedule was a contributing factor in his death.

The CDOC provided the following statement:

"The loss of Matthew Beauman was felt deeply by our Department, and especially by his colleagues at the Limon Correctional Facility. Our hearts are with his family and we will continue to be available to them to offer support." 

The Colorado Department of Corrections
Matthew's mother, right, and his fiancee, left, at his memorial

Before his death, Matthew was close to making his ultimate dream come true.

One month after he passed away, a Colorado Springs Police Academy recruiter emailed Matthew saying the department wanted to move forward with his application.

“I feel cheated," Matthew's mother said. "I just try to cherish the moments I had with him, and just want people to know that he was loved. He was smart. He was caring. He was strong, and he was determined."

The Beauman family said they're considering legal action against the CDOC and are in talks with an attorney.

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