SCHWENKSVILLE, Pa. - The grieving widow of a Pennsylvania corrections officer fears she may never know what happened to her husband, gravely injured inside the walls of one of the state's toughest prisons.
So, she has come to FOX 29 Investigates for answers. Jeff Cole reports there are serious questions about the death of David Weaver.
VIDEO UPDATE: New Information 11/16/16
"He was a funny guy," Tara Weaver says. "He was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. … He wore his heart on his sleeve."
On a shelf in a small Montgomery County home, the mementos of a life are placed with care. They mark David Weaver's life – a husband, a dad, a Navy veteran, a good man, says his grieving widow.
"He just really enjoyed his family and his friends. And he really loved his job," she said.
His job was to patrol the toughest blocks in the state. Weaver was a prison guard in Pennsylvania's "big house," State Correctional Institute (SCI) Graterford, a maximum-security prison.
It was where he fell from injuries which later took his life.
"It's five weeks today, so it's still very fresh, very raw," said an emotional Tara Weaver.
On Sept. 17th at 1:30 p.m. Weaver, 59, with 13 years on the job, was guarding dozens of inmates in an outdoor yard. Suddenly he fell backwards, striking his head against a concrete wall.
According to an autopsy, his skull was fractured and the hemorrhaging was extensive.
A prison nurse examined him, and Weaver was taken by ambulance to Paoli Hospital in Delaware County.
Nine days later, he's dead.
"My husband went to work and never came home," Tara Weaver said. "I don't want that to happen to someone else and to not be able to know – to have to live with the uncertainty I have to live with."
She doesn't know exactly how her husband died inside the walls of Graterford. In fact, nobody is certain because, other than inmates who were playing football at the time, Weaver was all alone when he fell, FOX 29 Investigates has learned.
We've also confirmed that, despite the Department of Corrections' refusal to answer our questions on the issue, there was no security camera.
FOX 29 learned of the death from Tara Weaver, who came to us complaining she couldn't get answers: "No, I think they're just sweeping it away like it doesn't matter. And, to me, that's not acceptable."
We've pieced together what happened from documents and interviews with state police, the corrections officers' union and the Department of Corrections, which refused to allow us to interview anyone on camera.
Graterford is in state Rep. Mike Vereb's (R-150th) district.
"Well, who are the witnesses in this case? ... They're inmates. That's the first concern I have," said Vereb.
He told us he learned of the death after Weaver's fellow guards alerted him. And he is outraged Weaver was alone in the yard.
"I'm a little appalled that one corrections officer would be out there with multiple inmates," Vereb said.
Again, the Department of Corrections refused to provide an official to answer our questions on camera.
In a statement, a spokesperson wrote "Weaver was seriously injured in a trip and fall accident," adding he "stumbled on uneven ground between the sidewalk and the grass area and fell backwards, hitting his head."
Asked why Weaver was alone in the yard, Corrections wrote, "Officer Weaver was stationed in a single-officer post. All of the DOC institutions have single-officer posts. This is not uncommon."
Jason Bloom, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA), told us, "In my 24 years of doing corrections, I have never walked in a yard by myself."
Bloom says single-officer posts make guards sitting targets.
"Make my staff as safe as you possibly can," he said. "If we had two people in the yard in this instance we would know exactly what happened — exactly."
In that statement, Corrections writes Weaver fell backwards "while trying to avoid a flying football during a flag football game."
It learned that from inmates in the yard willing to talk to investigators from the department's prison-based safety team.
Bloom argues inmates are not going to come clean if an attack occurred.
Cole: "Does that mean then this member of your union could have been killed?"
Bloom: "Could have been."
Cole: "He could have been knocked over by an inmate, pushed over, attacked?"
Bloom: "He could have been … absolutely."
Cole: "And no one's going to know that?"
Bloom: "No, no one is going to know."
Remember, FOX 29 has confirmed from a law enforcement source there was no security camera trained on the yard.
Corrections says it does not discuss security measures.
And there's one more thing: Pennsylvania State Police from the Skippack barracks are now investigating Weaver's death. How did they learn of it? Not from the Department of Corrections.
Tara Weaver informed police of her husband's passing about 30 days after he hit his head when she learned Corrections had not done so. She says she wanted "objective investigators."
Asked why state police were not alerted to the incident or the death, Corrections writes: "We followed protocol by having the safety team investigate … a work-related injury."
The department's own safety policy says all individuals are to be interviewed as soon as possible after an accident.
Tara Weaver says the state police investigator told her the inmates weren't interviewed until four days later.
Vereb says he'll ask the state's Inspector General to take a hard look.
"When you have an injury of this magnitude where there is one corrections officer and a few dozen prisoners, I feel that state police should have been called when he was on his way to the hospital," the state representative said.
Meanwhile, Tara Weaver battles with her grief, her loss and the unknown.
"I still don't have a hundred percent closure as to what really happened, and I don't think I ever will. And I still don't have my husband," she said.
State police say, so far, they view Weaver's death as an accident.
The Department of Corrections has now determined he died in the line of duty. The department writes it is saddened by Officer Weaver's death and extends its deepest sympathies to his family.
However, Graterford issued news releases twice this year when inmates died; there's been nothing so far for the fallen officer, Cole reported.
The officer's widow, Tara Weaver, disclosed to FOX 29 after our broadcast that her husband had returned to work on Sept. 17 after missing five months due to an earlier fall. Weaver says her husband fell down stairs at their home on April 18. She says he was treated and took part in a rehabilitation program before being allowed to return to Graterford. Weaver says a workers’ compensation nurse told her there was no indication her husband's earlier fall caused the September event inside the prison. The Department of Corrections has told FOX 29 Weaver tripped and fell backwards striking his head while trying to avoid a flying football during a flag football game.