The Minnesota Senate has moved to close a "hole" in state law that local prosecutors say prevented them from charging a light-rail operator in a fatal 2017 crash.
Nicholas Westlake, 29, was killed when his car was struck by a Green Line train at the intersection of University Avenue and Eustis Street in St. Paul. While Metro Transit found that the operator ran a red light, causing the collision, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office declined to pursue criminal charges. Although the operator was demoted, prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to prove gross negligence and that they were unable to file careless driving charges because trains were not considered vehicles under state traffic law.
"The result in this situation, despite a fatality, is that because gross negligence was not present, there simply were not other options for charging accidental, negligent, or careless conduct of a light-rail train," St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said at the time.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said those circumstances made the need for updating the law "tragically clear."
"We need to change the law to prevent and deter a senseless tragedy like this from happening again," Nelson said.
The bill, which Nelson said has the backing of Metro Transit, will not have any bearing on the case involving Westlake's death. The Rochester Republican said that while the change can't prevent every accident, updating the statue creates accountability for drivers.
A similar proposal is awaiting a vote in the state House.