LINCOLN — The state on Friday suspended a program that allowed prison inmates to drive other work-release inmates to and from jobs when city buses are not operating.
The move comes after an inmate driver, Jeremy Dobbe, was involved in fatal crash in Lincoln Tuesday night, and amid growing criticism of the program.
A Lincoln woman was killed when a van driven by Dobbe struck her mini-van nearly head on. The state van driven by the inmate was seen swerving, speeding and running a red light just prior to the accident.
Dobbe, 35, is serving time in prison for dealing methamphetamine. But his prior convictions include drunken driving in 1998 and 2003, as well as reckless driving in 2001, willful reckless driving in 2003, driving under suspension in 2004 and careless driving in 2010.
On Thursday, state corrections officials released its policies for allowing inmates to drive in a program that's been used since 1985.
State policies say “special attention” will be given to a prison inmate's past driving record and chemical abuse history before allowing that inmate to work as a prison driver.
A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections said Thursday that the Hawkeye State does not allow inmates to drive state vans.
On Thursday, State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha criticized state corrections officials for allowing Dobbe to drive despite his driving and criminal records.
The state's press release Friday morning stated that prison workers will provide the late-night transportation for work-release inmates while a “careful and thorough” review of the program is conducted.
The accident was still under investigation, said Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly. He said his office was awaiting results of blood and urine tests before considering criminal charges.
Corrections spokeswoman Dawn Renee Smith declined to respond to requests Thursday to explain why Dobbe was approved as a driver given his past record.
“All of the information we have available at this time has been provided in the news releases we issued,” she said in an email.
When asked to comment at a business event on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Dave Heineman said he hadn't had time yet to review the incident, “so it's a little premature to comment.”
There had been six vans operating out of the State Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, and three running out of a similar facility in east Omaha.
At the time of the crash, 10:21 p.m. Tuesday, Dobbe was headed east to 14th and M Streets in Lincoln to pick up inmates.
Eyewitnesses said the van driven by the inmate was swerving and had forced another vehicle off the road and run a red light just before the crash. The van was traveling at an estimated speed of 50 mph, one witness said. The street where the crash occurred has a 35 mph speed limit.
The pickup was scheduled for 10:15 p.m., so he was running late. And the site of the accident, 18th and Van Dorn Streets, is not on a direct route from the Corrections Center to the pickup site. But Smith declined to respond to requests to explain.
World-Herald staff writer Emily Nohr contributed to this report.