ST PAUL, Minn. — By an overwhelming 65-to-0 vote, the Minnesota State Senate has passed a bill to close a loophole that allowed light rail train operators avoid charges in fatal accidents.
Earlier this year, a KARE 11 investigation showed how the operator of a light rail train blew through a stop signal in St. Paul, smashed into a car, and killed well-known Twin Cities ballroom dancer Nic Westlake.
Although video evidence showed the light rail train operator was at fault, he escaped careless driving charges because prosecutors discovered that trains are not covered by existing traffic laws.
As members of Nic Westlake’s family looked on from the gallery, senators voted Monday to include light rail operators in the state’s reckless and careless driving statutes.
The Westlake family had fought for the change. “It was a terrible, senseless tragedy and we want to see something positive come out of that,” said Peter Westlake, Nic’s older brother.
“The thing that would mean the most to us would be to know that another family doesn’t have to go through the experience we went through because this changed so light rail drivers are at least held to the same standard as bus drivers,” he said.
In an emotional scene moments after the vote, the bill’s chief sponsor Sen. Carla Nelson (R-District 26) embraced members of the Westlake family.
“We hope you can take some small measure of comfort in knowing that you’ve made a difference in getting our laws changed here in Minnesota,” she told the family.
The Westlake family hopes for quick action as the measure moves to the Minnesota House.