- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Relatives have sued the state over a fatal Lincoln collision that involved a state-owned van driven by a Nebraska inmate.

The lawsuit was filed last week against the state Department of Correctional Services; its former director, Robert Houston; and the inmate driver, Jeremy Dobbe, the Lincoln Journal Star said (https://bit.ly/1leQp4v ).

Dobbe is accused of speeding and swerving before crossing into another lane on June 25 last year and striking a vehicle driven by Joyce Meeks, 47, of Lincoln.

He pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge stemming from the collision and awaits trial in Lancaster County District Court, but is in state prison as part of his original sentencing for drugs and other convictions.

Meeks’ husband, Leonard, and son, Martell Buchanan, say in the lawsuit that the state was negligent for letting Dobbe behind the wheel of the van to pick up and drop off other inmates as part of a work-release program. The lawsuit alleges that Dobbe was driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or some other intoxicating substance.

The lawsuit also says officials should not have approved Dobbe for inmate driving privileges because of his history of chemical abuse, his sentence and other factors.

Two weeks after the collision, corrections director Houston ended the inmate driving program, which began in 1985. Department officials have said they reviewed prisoners’ criminal history and driving record before allowing them behind a wheel. Drivers must also pass a weekly drug test.

Houston retired in September.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified funeral expenses, plus general damages for the loss of Joyce Meeks suffered by her husband and son.

The state has not yet filed a response. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office didn’t immediately return a message Monday from The Associated Press.

Leonard Meeks and Buchanan had filed a claim against the state in July, seeking $5 million. The claim was a legally required step that must be taken before a lawsuit can be filed against the state.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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