LINCOLN — A judge has dismissed a second lawsuit that sought to hold Peru State College responsible for the 2010 disappearance of Tyler Thomas, a 19-year-old student from Omaha.
Nemaha County District Judge Daniel Bryan Jr. ruled that college officials could not have foreseen that Joshua Keadle would potentially commit violence against a fellow student. Keadle emerged as a suspect in Thomas’ disappearance, although he has never been charged with her abduction or slaying.
The decision represented yet another blow to Thomas’ family, who sought to recover financial damages from the Nebraska State College Board of Trustees. In a companion lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a federal judge previously ruled in favor of the board, which oversees Peru State and two other state colleges.
Lincoln attorney Vince Powers, who represents the Thomas family, said he will appeal the decision.
“I will respectfully disagree with the judge,” Powers said. “I think there was sufficient evidence.”
Messages left late Thursday with Peru State’s spokeswoman were not immediately returned.
Earlier this week U.S. District Judge John Gerrard entered a judgment against Keadle, the last remaining defendant in the family’s federal wrongful death lawsuit.
Keadle will face a civil jury trial in federal court to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to Thomas’ survivors. Recovering any damages will prove difficult, considering Keadle is in prison on an unrelated rape conviction.
Gerrard entered the judgment this week after Keadle failed to respond to a court summons in a lawsuit filed by La Tanya Thomas, Tyler’s mother.
The family wants justice and closure and a verdict that will honor the young woman’s life, their attorney said.
“The point of the trial is to hold him accountable for what he did,” Powers said. “The parents of Ty Thomas want justice for Ty, and I am doing everything I can to accomplish that.”
A security camera recorded Thomas walking across the campus about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2010. She was headed toward her dorm after drinking alcohol at an off-campus party.
Thomas has not been heard from since. Although her remains have not been found, a court declared her dead in 2013.
Keadle, then 29, told investigators he picked up Thomas and drove her to a secluded boat ramp along the Missouri River, where they had consensual sex. He said he then left Thomas alive at the boat ramp after she threatened to accuse him of rape.
He is in prison for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in Fremont in 2008. The victim reported the assault after Thomas disappeared.
In the weeks before the disappearance, Peru State’s security director said he told administrators to expel Keadle for sexually harassing two female students. Keadle admitted to one of the accusations but was found not responsible in the other case by an administrative panel.
In the state lawsuit, Judge Bryan said college officials had a duty to protect students from foreseeable acts of violence on campus.
Based on Keadle’s statements to authorities, his contact with Thomas occurred off-campus.
“This court finds as a matter of law that the board owed no duty to Tyler Thomas to prevent harm caused by Keadle off its campus,” the judge wrote in his order. “This determination alone warrants summary judgment being entered on behalf of the board and against the plaintiff.”
Keadle also remains a defendant in the state lawsuit.
He is serving 15 to 20 years in prison for the Fremont sex assault.
He will be eligible for parole in late 2018 and for mandatory release in 2021.
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