When people’s lives are at stake, it always pays to be safe instead of sorry.

The following nightmare scenario is what can happen when organizations choose to skip the background check. As a prerequisite to hiring contractors (or any vendors for that matter), HOAs (Homeowner Associations) have an important responsibility to obtain proof that comprehensive background checks are completed on employees involved in these types of projects. Horrific circumstances such as these can and must be avoided at all costs, and there’s no excuse for negligence: all it takes is a simple act of due diligence to guard against the unthinkable.

Restoration Project Leaves Community Vulnerable

Stucco walls are common in the community where my mother lives. Over time, these walls tend to suffer various cracks, dings, and holes that must be repaired. The HOA board made a decision one year to hire a company to mend and restore the stucco, leading to numerous workers being positioned throughout the neighborhood.

During this project, my mom left on a planned vacation to Europe. Not 12 hours later, I received a call at 3 in the morning from a police officer: he first confirmed my identity, then proceeded to tell me there had been a break-in at my mom’s house and that I needed to get over there immediately.

I rushed out the door and got there 20 minutes later: the first thing I could see when driving up was that her front door was kicked in, and the big picture window in front of her house was smashed to pieces. I got out of my car and began to walk toward the front door, my sense of horror rising from the sheer violence and destruction I could see as more of the house came into view.

The officers met me outside the house and tried their best to prepare me for the damages that lay waiting inside, but nothing can prepare you for that level of devastation.

The inside of my mom’s house was in ruins. The whole living room was filled with upended furniture, overturned bookshelves, and huge holes where heavy objects hit the walls. In the kitchen, the refrigerator was open and the door was hanging at a weird angle off its hinges—food, glass, and broken containers were littered everywhere, and I could hear things dripping from the counters and walls.

My mother’s bedroom was the hardest part for me to handle: all the same levels of destruction were present here as well—her fan was ripped right out of the ceiling and her dresser was tipped over—but for some reason all of her bedding was missing. I remember thinking just how strange and out-of-place it seemed amidst all the chaos. I even asked out loud to the demolished room, “Where are her sheets?” As I would soon find out, her sheets were still close-by, and their new location only added to the sense of confusion and horror building in the pit of my stomach.

After picking my way through the rubble to make my way back outside, the officers pointed out a strange truck in the driveway. In my initial shock, I’d walked right past it.

My mother’s grandfather clock—a beautiful, handcrafted clock made by her own father—was aggressively thrown across the bed of the pick-up. As you can imagine, the clock was just trashed, with big chunks of wood snapped off and glass everywhere. I took a closer look, and I could see my mother’s missing bedding stuffed haphazardly into the cab of the truck.

After walking the house and seeing the extent of all the damage, the police filled me in on everything else. One of the most chilling things I learned that night is that the phone lines were cut. I could only imagine the terrible conclusion this night could’ve come to if my mother hadn’t left for Europe the night before. They also told me the neighbors are the ones who called in the burglary after they woke up to the noise of the grandfather clock being hurled into the truck. The man was still in the house when the police arrived, continuing to destroy everything in sight and oblivious to the lights and sirens headed his way.

It took 8 officers to bring the intruder down: he was over 6 feet tall and weighed in at 300 plus pounds. Blood samples would later confirm he was under the influence of meth, cannabis, and alcohol combined. The man’s criminal history also made a lot of sense in light of the circumstances: his 2 prior convictions—one for rape and one for aggravated assault and rape combined—should have clued someone in along the way that he was capable of such barbaric behavior. At the very least, the contracting company could have been held accountable for negligent hiring: without a proper background check procedure in place, negligence lawsuits are easily leveled at companies when easily-avoidable criminal incidents occur.

The Burglar’s Intent

The crime scene detectives came out to collect evidence and draw their conclusions as to what happened. This man most likely watched this 5’2”, 110 lb. lady come and go from the house as he worked on the stucco nearby, coming up with the plan to break in over the days prior. The detectives ran through the scenario: after kicking the door open, he immediately ran up the stairs in the darkness and into my mom’s bedroom, leaped from the doorway to the bed, and brought the ceiling fan crashing down right where my mother would have been sleeping. I was told by the investigators that my mom would not have lived through such a violent assault. As it was, the man’s rage was triggered even further by finding her missing from the bedroom, sending him through the house in a blind fury to destroy everything in his path.

The HOA claimed no responsibility for this catastrophe: despite the fact they neglected to vet this company who had a ticking time bomb on their staff, there was no admission of wrongdoing, and policies weren’t changed to protect the neighborhood from future threats.

Following his arrest, this violent individual was let out on bail, and of course he took this opportunity to flee the state before his court date. It took more than 4 years for him to slip-up and get caught by police—during this time, my mother was left in a state of perpetual dread, just waiting for this man to return and finish the job he’d started.

Thankfully, the man didn’t show up again, and was arrested in California. After his extradition back to Colorado for trial, this repeat criminal was sentenced to 13 years in California’s San Quentin State Prison. 6 years went by, and then my mother began getting notified each year when this violent criminal was up for parole, and each year she wrote the parole board to protest his release. He wasn’t discharged early, but eventually he completed his 13-year sentence and was released. It took a long time for my mother to not be consumed on a daily basis by the terrifying possibility that this person would come back to her home. The passage of time has brought my mother some measure of peace, and the fact that she hasn’t been in that kind of danger since is a blessing to my peace of mind as well, but it’s a stark example of what can happen when companies choose to cut corners and leave people vulnerable to hardened criminals.