LINCOLN — A state prison inmate was driving 90 miles an hour through a residential area when he slammed nearly head on into a Lincoln woman's minivan, according to an affidavit filed in court Wednesday.
Joyce Meeks, 47, died at the scene of the June 25 crash.
Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly filed a felony manslaughter charge Wednesday against the inmate, Jeremy Dobbe. The charge is punishable by one to 20 years in prison.
Dobbe, 35, told hospital employees soon after the crash that he was on K2, a high-inducing chemical compound, the document said.
But the affidavit said tests on Dobbe's urine did not find evidence of the “designer drugs” checked for.
Kelly said he expects that more tests will be done to check for additional versions of such drugs.
He said it is a “real possibility” that he would alter the charge against Dobbe if the additional tests found evidence of intoxicating chemicals.
Dobbe, a work-release inmate serving time for drug convictions, was driving a state van at the time of the crash. He was headed to pick up other inmates on a work detail under a now-terminated prison work program.
Kelly filed the manslaughter charge in Lancaster County Court, along with the affidavit for an arrest warrant. An arraignment has been set for Aug. 1.
The charge alleges that Dobbe killed Meeks unintentionally while violating the law. The violations listed were: reckless driving, careless driving, speeding, driving too fast for conditions or driving left of center.
According to the affidavit:
Computer logs on the van show that it was going 90.1 mph just five seconds before the crash and had slowed to 89.5 mph at impact. Dobbe was driving on a two-lane city street with a speed limit of 35 mph.
The vehicle data also showed there was no braking during the five seconds before the crash.
Multiple witnesses contacted by Lincoln police reported seeing the state van swerving across the road and into the other lane.
Most also reported it was traveling at a high rate of speed.
One witness, who reported first seeing the state van near the entrance to Pioneers Park and the Community Correctional Center, said it was traveling at “no more than 20 mph” at the time and was swerving and driving into the ditch.
About two miles farther east, she said, the van “took off like a rocket” and ran two red lights.
The affidavit said blood tests found no alcohol in Dobbe's system. Dobbe has been convicted twice of drunken driving.
He also was once charged with possession of K2, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Kelly said it's difficult for testing laboratories to keep up with the latest versions of synthetic drugs. Laboratories overseas tweak the chemical formulas in the drugs regularly to stay ahead of state laws attempting to ban them.
Nebraska has changed its laws three times in the past three years to address new versions of the chemicals.
Meeks' family filed a $5 million tort claim with the state last week. Such state claims are a prelude to a formal lawsuit.
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 family's attorney, said he had not seen the charge or the results of the drug testing and could not comment.
“We'll see where this evidence leads,” he said.
The family's 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.
Houston shut down the van driver program 10 days after the accident. The program had been in operation since 1985.
Houston said that as far as he knew, prison officials had no indication that Dobbe had been using K2 or similar drugs.
He said his department is in the same situation as other agencies in testing for synthetic drugs — it's difficult to do. But corrections staff do searches and have had inmates tell them they have used K2.
“We have zero tolerance for that,” he said.