December 13, 2017 10:30 PM
A deadly light rail accident at the intersection of Eustis and University Avenues in St. Paul last July is now in the hands of the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, a Metro Transit spokesperson said.
"The case has been turned over to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, but we still consider the police investigation as ongoing and we will not be doing any interviews," Howie Padilla said.
Sources tell KSTP that a Metro Transit investigation concluded the accident was caused by human error when the LRT Green Line driver blew through a stop light on the train tracks and collided with a car in the intersection.
Nicholas Westlake, 29, died a few days later from injuries sustained in the crash. His girlfriend Neli Petkova, a passenger in his car, was seriously injured.
Sources said alcohol and drugs were not a factor in the accident. But the Ramsey County Attorney's Office is looking at the LRT operator's cell phone records to see if he was negligent in the crash.
Deeanna Goebel told KSTP she witnessed the accident while driving one car behind Westlake on Eustis Avenue. She is certain Westlake had a green traffic light as he entered the intersection.
"I know he had a green light because I was right behind him," Goebel said. "And I know I could have made it through the intersection and possibly another car behind me as well. But the train was moving fast, and then I heard a loud crash and the accident happened right in front of me."
If Goebel's account is accurate, it means the LRT operator should have seen a train signal with a white, horizontal bar indicating the LRT driver should stop.
But Goebel said he didn't.
"I could tell something was not right as I drove up to the intersection behind the other car involved in the accident, because it just was not really slowing down," she said. "And I could see the green light for the driver in front of me, and that is what I told police I saw."
Goebel said it took some time to sink in, but she eventually realized she was lucky. Because if her trip through the intersection came just a few seconds sooner, she could have been in the same spot as Westlake's car.
"It is really sad, because you realize how precious life is and I felt really bad for his girlfriend and family," she said. "And I guess I started to realize how lucky I was."
Padilla said Metro Transit cannot comment until the Ramsey County Attorney finishes its part of the investigation. He said the LRT operator is no longer driving a train, but is still employed at Metro Transit.
Updated: December 13, 2017 10:30 PM
Created: December 13, 2017 06:43 PM
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