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Fatal crashes: Motorist safety at issue for Oklahoma Corrections officers forced to work 60-hour weeks

Two fatal crashes and other traffic accidents lead to safety questions for Oklahoma Corrections officers made to work long hours
by Rick Green Modified: May 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm •  Published: May 11, 2014

Like most Oklahoma correctional officers, Sgt. James Caskey works a minimum of 60 hours a week and sometimes doesn’t get enough sleep.

Less than a mile from home, he fell asleep while driving to work at 5 p.m. on Dec. 30. He woke up when his truck sideswiped a mailbox at 55 mph.

He wasn’t hurt, but the accident has eerie similarities to two other wrecks involving correctional officers, and those crashes had fatal results. Are the extremely long hours prison guards work making them a potential hazard on the road?

Caskey says the answer is yes.

Correctional officer Ryan Peacock, 30, died April 30 on State Highway 39 near Wanette while on his way to work at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center.

“He was an Eagle Scout of all things,” Caskey said. “We were able to hire an Eagle Scout and then we worked him to death.”

Peacock, who lived in Pauls Valley, was 13 miles away from the prison where he worked when his vehicle left the roadway and hit a tree. While the Oklahoma Highway Patrol is still compiling a report on the crash, Caskey said he feels certain Peacock fell asleep at the wheel.

Caskey, 50, lives in the Lexington area about six miles from where he works at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center. He said he was surprised at his own accident.

“I left the roadway and hit a mailbox,” he said. “It tore the passenger side mirror off my truck. The only thing that got hurt was the mailbox, the mirror and a little bit of my pride.

“You don’t expect to doze off on the way to work.”

While he escaped without injury, a much more serious accident involving a correctional officer occurred on Dec. 9, 2010, on State Highway 74 about four miles north of Maysville.

A vehicle driven by James Keesee, 37, a correctional officer at Joseph Harp, crossed the center median and collided with a vehicle driven by Shila Minyard, 39, wife of Maysville Police Chief Randy Minyard. Shila Minyard and Keesee died. Minyard’s son, Trevor, then 10, was taken by helicopter to OU Medical Center in critical condition after the wreck.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol report on the accident indicates Keesee’s vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic “for an unknown reason” and left no skid marks.

His widow, Kristy Keesee, said her husband worked a year of overnight shifts before the accident and was often asked to work overtime, but did not work overtime immediately preceding the 6:38 a.m. accident.

“He worked the graveyard shift and was driving home and fell asleep at the wheel, I was told,” she said.

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by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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