KSTP believes one of the best ways to serve our viewers is through investigative journalism. But the enterprise stories from the 5 Investigates team don’t just expose and uncover problems. The station’s investigations also push for solutions. The stories from the past year on Nicole Burnham and Nic Westlake both ultimately led to changes and exemplify KSTP’s commitment to investigative reporting.
Private Nicole Burnham enlisted in the United States Army after graduating from Anoka High School. Three years later, she died by suicide after being sexually assaulted and harassed on a U.S. Army base in South Korea, according to military records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
5 INVESTIGATES obtained 500+ pages of confidential military records that showed the Army failed to protect Nicole. Commanders turned a blind eye to the harassment, ignored her suicidal ideations, and failed to notify other command staff that she was a victim of sexual assault.
After 5 INVESTIGATES highlighted the military’s failures, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Tom Emmer sent a joint letter to then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, demanding the agency take action and review its policies regarding victims of sexual assault.
A month later, the U.S. Army changed its policy to require transfers in situations like Nicole’s to occur within 30 days of being approved.
Nicole’s mother says her daughter fell through every crack. Because of KSTP’s investigation, those cracks are being filled.
Changes also came about after KSTP’s investigation into Nic Westlake’s death.
Less than four months after the story aired, the loophole in state law that prevented criminal charges from being filed against the driver of the light rail train that hit and killed Nic was closed.
5 Eyewitness News first reported on Nic’s death and the circumstances surrounding it in July of 2017. Nearly a year later, KSTP’s reporting revealed investigators found the light rail driver to be at fault for causing the crash but he would not be charged criminally.
Those stories ultimately led to the 5 Eyewitness News investigation on January 23rd, 2019, that featured never before seen surveillance video of the crash as well as interviews with Nic Westlake family and their fight to change state law.
In an email obtained by 5 Investigates, St. Paul’s City Attorney explained: “…there can be no criminal charges in this case for violation of the traffic code because it does not apply to the operation of a rail train.”
Nearly three years’ worth of stories on what happened to Nic Westlake and the fallout from his death culminated on April 4th, 2019, when Governor Tim Walz signed HF1568 into law. Light rail operators in Minnesota are now subject to the state’s careless and reckless driving statutes.
“With the help of your team, we have been able to close this loophole and the new, safer standard will go into effect this summer,” the Westlake family wrote to KSTP. “It means so much to our family knowing that something good can from our tragedy, and we couldn’t have done it without some help bringing attention to the issue.”
KSTP is proud of these two stories and the others produced by the 5 INVESTIGATES team that help make a difference in our community.