After ballroom dancer Nic Westlake was killed by a light rail train, his family launched a website, nicwestlakememorial.com to gain support for safety improvements and changes to the laws that govern light rail.
Metropolitan Transit found the train’s driver, Abdellatif El Maarouf, at fault for the crash on W. University Avenue at Eustis Street that killed Westlake, 29, and severely injured Neli Petkova, now 27, his fiancée and dance partner.
An investigation found El Maarouf had disregarded a rail stop signal at the intersection. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue a charge of criminal vehicular operation because it could not prove that El Maarouf’s conduct met the standard of gross negligence, and other traffic laws didn’t apply.
Peter Westlake, Nic’s older brother, said the family and other supporters are pulling together a bill to present to the Legislature. It hasn’t been drafted yet, but they’re fighting to stop trains from being excluded from the traffic code, which protects drivers from criminal penalties if they break the traffic laws by speeding or running a red light.
“At a high level what we want is these light rail trains — that are driving on the same roads as you or I travel on every day — should be subject to the same consequences and penalties that the rest of us are,” Westlake said. “At the end of the day we want to feel safer. We thought that this loophole was probably the most sensible and immediate thing we could get done.”
Nic’s father, Robert Westlake, filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County last month against El Maarouf, the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit alleging negligence. The agency denied any negligence.