Investigation continues into death of autistic Utah man after alleged break-in

Tragedy • Man, 24, from Syracuse group home dies days after being subdued in a neighbor’s house.

By Michael McFall The Salt Lake Tribune

Syracuse police Thursday were still investigating the death of an autistic man who died several days after he allegedly pushed his way into a neighbor’s home and the resident put him in a headlock.

Brandon Beukers’ funeral was held Wednesday at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in Syracuse, a mile and a half from where the confrontation occurred.

Beukers, 24, was nonverbal and functioned at the level of a young child, his uncle, Darryl Larson, said Thursday.

Beukers left a nearby private group home Feb. 7 and, at about 11 p.m., entered the neighbor’s home, on the 1300 South block of Banbury Drive.

After Beukers pushed his way inside, the homeowner, Jon Hislop, confronted him and put him in a headlock. Hislop told investigators that he felt he was in danger, said Syracuse police Sgt. Austin Anderson.

Beukers eventually passed out. The homeowner’s wife started performing CPR, and paramedics soon arrived.

Beukers was taken to the hospital, but police learned Feb. 12 that he had died.

Police said they responded to what was reported as a burglary in progress. Anderson said he expects his department will submit the case to the Davis County attorney’s office for review sometime next week.

“Brandon has touched many lives, more than we could ever know,” his obituary reads. “He had a very kind heart and was always happy despite the pain.”

Beukers loved Disney movies in particular, and “loved when others would sing the songs to him,” the obituary adds. One of the highlights of his life was a trip to Disneyland, where he met Mickey Mouse.

“Brandon didn’t talk, but he did learn how to say Mickey Mouse and the next morning at the hotel he excitedly repeated ‘Mickey Mouse’ as he waited for the rest of us to finish getting ready for the day,” the obituary reads. His family will be “forever grateful for the chance to care for, love and learn from him,” and they will greatly miss the blessing that he was to their lives.

Larson wondered if there is a way to change medical privacy law so that group homes such as Beukers’ could inform neighbors about their autistic residents.

Right now, they can’t, since such homes are funded through the state and Medicaid and need to abide by those privacy rules, said Laura Anderson, president of the Autism Council of Utah. If she could, speaking for herself as the mother of a nonverbal autistic son, she would waive that privacy right for him to make him safer.

“We have that luxury because we’re parents,” Anderson said. But it’s an issue that more and more parents are having to address

“We are being hit with a tidal wave of kids who are going to need services,” she said.

In fact, one in 54 Utah children is autistic — higher than the national average, according 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s one of the reasons the Autism Council is pushing the Legislature this year for more funding for care providers, who could make more money working at fast food restaurant, Anderson said.

At the same time, “it’s a community issue,” Anderson stressed. She advised people to get to know their neighbors; she does. Whenever someone new moves into Anderson’s neighborhood, she and her husband bring over their son to introduce him and advise the new neighbor about his disability.

Anderson said that a tragedy like Beukers’ family endured “is our greatest fear.”

“[Those with autism] don’t have a visible disability,” she said. “They don’t respond to the typical social cues. If my son saw an open door, he would walk into it and has on many occasions.”

Kenneth Lougee, the father of an adult son with autism, doesn’t blame the group home. His son is in a different house than Beukers was, but it’s run by the same company, which Lougee believes is doing what it can with the funding that it’s given. His son, who used to be “a runner,” was still able to break out of Lougee’s home even after he and his wife double-locked the doors, put in a 6-foot fence and nailed the windows shut — even with one of them always sleeping in the living room.

Autism is a complex disease that’s defined by a cluster of behavioral symptoms — and not any known cause. Larson hopes that more awareness comes out of his family’s tragedy. So does Anderson. She said her heart breaks for both Beukers’ family and the homeowner.

For more information and resources about autism, visit autismcouncilofutah.org.

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