New safety measures on the way to Norplex Drive after recent creek death

Family advocates for protective measures

Family members of a man who died in a car crash off Norplex Drive in south La Crosse are working to make the roadway safer, and the city of La Crosse is responding.

22-year-old Justin McElwain was found in Swift Creek after he lost control of his car on Norplex Drive and ended up in the water just off the road.

Captain Jason Melby of the La Crosse Police Department said it’s hard to appreciate just how hazardous Norplex Drive can be without walking right up to the bank of Swift Creek.

“All you have to do is look over the edge here. A car doesn’t have to get too far,” Melby said. “This is a pretty steep bank, and once it breaks the edge of this bank, it’s going down and it’s going to go down into some rather cold, swift water.”

Justin’s father Mark McElwain, knows too well the dangers of the roadway after his son’s death.

“I lost everything with him,” he said. “He made me better, and he made everyone around him better. Now, he’s making La Crosse better.”

Mark McElwain and his family have made it a point to advocate for new safety measures on the roadway, and not just for Justin, but also 21-year-old Ellie Ahmann, whose car went through the ice in the same area three years ago.

“Two is too many,” Melby said.

“It’s terrible and tragic, and I think as human beings kind of second-guessing — it’s somewhat in our nature to do that,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said. “We can’t do anything about that at this point, so we’ll look forward.”

Now the city of La Crosse is considering adding better lighting, improved signage to alert drivers of a sharp turnoff and a barrier to the embankment, either in the form of a guard rail or protective boulders.

“I don’t think it’s because of me, it’s because of my boy,” McElwain said.

He hopes the loss of Justin will save others from future heartache.

“He’d be very proud to see what was accomplished between him and I, by getting this done,” McElwain said.

Both McElwain and Kabat said strategically protective boulders along the road here would be preferred to a guard rail.

Mark McElwain would also like to see a plaque in memory of both Justin and Ahmann, the woman who died here three years ago, off the roadway.

The city would like to have the safety measures in place this spring.