Family of woman killed by inmate driver files $5 million claim - Omaha.com
Published Friday, July 19, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:17 am
Family of woman killed by inmate driver files $5 million claim

LINCOLN — A $5 million claim filed over a Lincoln woman's fatal crash with a prison inmate driver will not end her family's grief.

But the family of Joyce Meeks hopes it will make the State of Nebraska accept responsibility for putting Jeremy Dobbe behind the wheel of a state vehicle, despite two drunken driving convictions and several other driving offenses.

Meeks, 47, died June 25 when a van driven by Dobbe slammed nearly head-on into her minivan on a residential street in Lincoln.

“No amount of money can really make you feel better,” said Martell Buchanan, one of Meeks' three children.

But, he added, “I don't want my mom's death to go under the rug somewhere and be forgotten.”

The family filed the tort claim Thursday with the State Division of Risk Management. The filing was a preliminary step in bringing a wrongful death lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning referred calls to Shannon Anderson, the state risk manager.

Anderson declined to comment, saying the claim will have to be investigated.

The claim named the State of Nebraska, the Department of Correctional Services, corrections director Robert Houston, the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln, corrections employees involved in the inmate van driver program and Dobbe.

The request for damages will go before the State Claims Board, which can approve, deny or take no action. If the board denies the claim or takes no action within six months, the family can then file a lawsuit in district court.

Dobbe, 35, has a history of drug abuse and a poor driving record that included two convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol. He was serving five to seven years in prison for possession of methamphetamine.

Witnesses said the van was swerving and speeding through a Lincoln neighborhood shortly before the crash. Meeks, a nurse assistant and mother of three, died at the scene.

The claim said Dobbe drove in a “negligent and reckless manner” that caused the accident. It also said he was believed to have been driving the van while intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs.

Tim Cavanagh, the Chicago attorney representing the family, said information about drugs and alcohol remains to be verified. Authorities are awaiting the results of blood and urine tests on Dobbe.

Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly said this week that he does not expect to make a decision on charges against Dobbe until next week, at the earliest.

Damages listed by the family include Meeks' “conscious prefatal injury fear and apprehension of impending death,” as well as the loss of her financial support and companionship.

Meeks' husband, Leonard, said the days since the crash have been difficult ones “without my partner, my soulmate, my everything.”

Cavanagh said the amount sought in a lawsuit could differ from the $5 million. He said that number was used as a matter of procedure.

“We're going to seek all damages allowed by the State of Nebraska,” he said.

Buchanan said one of the family's goals already has been met. Corrections officials ended the inmate van driver program 10 days after his mother's death.

The program, which allowed inmates to drive state vehicles in the community, was launched in 1985.

At the time, Houston declined to comment on whether department policy had been followed when Dobbe was approved to work as a driver.

But he expressed confidence in the professional judgment of the corrections staff charged with sorting through inmates' criminal, driving and substance abuse history.

State policies said “special attention” was to be paid to an inmate's driving record and chemical abuse history before that individual could be cleared to work in the program.

As of June, a total of eight inmates were authorized to drive six vans from the state's Community Corrections Center-Lincoln. Three drivers operated three vans out of a similar center in Omaha.

The inmates drove other inmates to work-release assignments when city buses were not available. Although there had been other accidents involving inmate drivers in the past, this was the first death.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

Easter Sunday temperatures climb into 80s in Omaha area
Omaha police investigate two nonfatal shootings
City Council to vote on adding Bluffs pedestrian safety lights
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Midlands runners ready for Boston Marathon
Families from area shelters treated to meal at Old Chicago
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »