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UTA called hard-hearted in derailment suit

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At 19 years old, Elizabeth Lindsay has already filed for bankruptcy, condemning her to seven years of poor credit ratings and financial insecurity.

But it wasn't excessive spending or unwise decisions that doomed the Westminster College junior, her father says. It was the Utah Transit Authority.

UTA last month filed a civil lawsuit against Elizabeth Lindsay and her parents, seeking to recover the $41,000 for damage caused when Lindsay ran a red light in downtown Salt Lake City and struck on oncoming TRAX train. The Jan. 28, 2000, accident derailed the first car of the two-car train.

Elizabeth Lindsay's father, Alan, told the Deseret News his daughter tried to negotiate a settlement with UTA. But, he said, the agency was unwilling to settle for anything less than the full amount. Elizabeth Lindsay's property damage insurance would have covered $25,000 of the damage, he said, and the young woman offered another $1,000 of her own money.

It still wasn't enough for UTA bosses, Alan Lindsay said.

"They kept saying, 'Full amount, full amount, full amount,' " he said. "(UTA's) general tone was pretty clear: 'We want to make an example of her. We want to show the public that we mean business.' "

UTA spokesman Kris McBride remains adamant that the agency is not trying to make Elizabeth Lindsay an example to others who may tangle with TRAX in the future. As a publicly funded agency, it is simply trying to recover losses to the public's investment and to soften the financial blow to taxpayers.

"We have a very consistent policy in these types of situations, and that's why we have to pursue this," McBride said. "We are not trying to use his daughter at all in that way."

UTA officials offered to set up a monthly payment plan with "very minimum" payments, McBride said, but the offer was rebuffed by the Lindsays.

"We were very sensitive to that situation, to her situation," McBride said. "We have not tried to push her toward (bankruptcy) at all. In fact, we've done everything we could to work out a situation where the taxpayers' money would be protected."

But Alan Lindsay and his attorney don't believe UTA is behaving the way a public agency should.

"That's garbage," Salt Lake attorney Rick Glauser said. "They took an extremely hard-line position with a 19-year-old girl and forced her into bankruptcy, and now they bend over backward to say what good people they are."

Alan Lindsay agrees. "We're just average people trying to make the best of it, and we feel like they're just being kind of hard-hearted about the whole thing.

"We recognize the obligation. If we had the money, we'd be paying it. We just don't have the money short of selling everything we own and mortgaging her future," he said. "We'd rather her declare bankruptcy at a young age and get it over with and move on."

At the time of the accident, Elizabeth Lindsay was working two jobs and attending school full time, her father said. She was on her way to one of those jobs, with the reading program at Guadalupe School, when the accident at the intersection of 500 South and Main Street happened.

"Somehow or another she just missed the light," Alan Lindsay said, adding his daughter wasn't trying to "beat the light" or the oncoming train.

Elizabeth Lindsay sustained a concussion in the accident and has since suffered from bouts of dizziness and had difficulty concentrating, her father said.

Monday, Glauser filed an answer to the suit in 3rd District Court challenging the case against Alan Lindsay and his wife, Rae.

Although Alan and Rae Lindsay owned the vehicle Elizabeth was driving during the accident, UTA has no valid claim against them because Elizabeth was not a minor at the time, Glauser said.

In Glauser's opinion, the lawsuit is frivolous and UTA, and the public, has lost money by refusing to negotiate with the Lindsays.

"The fact of the matter is, the taxpayers are going to get less money now than if they were going to settle with Elizabeth Lindsay," the attorney said.

E-MAIL: awelling@desnews.com