News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 2, 2008

Female student alleged ex-West Vigo coach exposed himself

By Sue Loughlin

TERRE HAUTE — A 17-year-old West Vigo High School student is alleging that a former teacher exposed himself to her, inappropriately touched her and used inappropriate language, according to the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

A police report was filed Thursday, said Detective Sgt. Frank Shahadey, lead investigator in the case. He also serves as a safety/security specialist for the Vigo County School Corp.

The female student made the allegation against Tommy Thornton, who resigned last week as a teacher and boys varsity basketball coach at the high school.

The incidents allegedly occurred sometime between November 2007 and February of this year.

The girl alleged Thornton “exposed himself” to her in the classroom, but away from other students.

She also alleged Thornton “used some very inappropriate, obscene language” in her presence. She also says he touched her buttocks and legs and would brush up against her body.

He allegedly “made comments about other female teachers in the building and what he’d like to do to them,” Shahadey said.

He also allegedly “discussed his sexual escapades” with other women, Shahadey said.

He believes the girl didn’t come forward sooner because Thornton was in a position of authority and she was intimidated.

Shahadey said the police report was taken by Debbie Hughes, a sheriff’s deputy, at West Vigo, and Shahadey will now begin his investigation. He hasn’t yet talked to the alleged victim or Thornton.

There apparently was only one incident in which the teacher allegedly exposed himself, but there appears to have been other incidents of inappropriate behavior or language, Shahadey said.

Last week, Thornton resigned “for personal reasons,” Superintendent Dan Tanoos said Monday. The resignation was effective immediately.

At the time of Thornton’s resignation, there was no criminal investigation under way, the Sheriff’s Department and prosecutor’s office said Monday.

Thornton taught machine trades and had been the West Vigo High School boys varsity basketball coach for three years. He graduated from the high school in 1989, where he was a standout basketball player.

Thornton could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday at his West Terre Haute home or by cell phone.

Tanoos said he just learned about the student’s allegations Thursday. “We will cooperate with police in their investigation,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.