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Suffolk DA, state officials continue probe into BU professor’s death on stairway at JFK/UMass MBTA station

BU professor David Jones died Saturday after falling from the closed staircase that connects Columbia Road and Old Colony Ave. at the JFK/UMass MBTA Station.
BU professor David Jones died Saturday after falling from the closed staircase that connects Columbia Road and Old Colony Ave. at the JFK/UMass MBTA Station.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

State authorities remained mum Tuesday about who was responsible for maintaining a ramshackle, rusted stairwell in Dorchester through which a Boston University associate professor fell to his death three days earlier.

Records suggest the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees roads and a park next to the MBTA’s JFK/UMass station, had some responsibility for the dilapidated, closed-off structure.

An August 2020 DCR report noted the Old Colony Avenue and Columbia Road intersection next to the staircase was especially dangerous and recommended making nearby crosswalks and surrounding paths safer for pedestrians. An MBTA official also said Monday that DCR was responsible for the stairwell.

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A DCR representative did not respond to questions Tuesday about the report or the agency’s oversight role, but had said a day earlier that Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is “investigating this incident.”

A jersey barrier and chain link fence blocked access at the top of the stairway.
A jersey barrier and chain link fence blocked access at the top of the stairway.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It remained unclear how David K. Jones, 40, a married father of three children, had accessed the staircase leading up to the Columbia Road overpass and fell some 20 feet to his death Saturday. The stairs had been deemed unsafe and were blocked off for the last 20 months, authorities said, and the MBTA had warned the public not to use the stairs to access the Red Line station.

Photos of the area taken before Jones’s death show an MBTA-style sign at the Columbia Road entrance warning that the stairs were closed. A wire fence also blocked the lower entrance, while a jersey barrier and chain link fence blocked access at the top.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office is investigating Jones’s death.

“Whether accidental or intentional, any death is a tragedy and the harm to loved ones is the same,” Rollins said in a statement. “While the investigation is ongoing, we are available to offer his family support and connect them to community resources through our victim witness assistance program.’’

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Critics said the confusion over which agency was responsible for the decaying staircase highlighted broader problems with the region’s deteriorating infrastructure — especially around one of the busiest MBTA stops in the system.

“Just the fact the agencies are in a position to finger-point and blame prevents a solution from ever being enacted,” said Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. “If no one ever takes responsibility for the maintenance, the operations, the safety, and access, that’s why we end up in these quagmires.”

A special commission convened by the state Legislature in 2019 is currently examining how to improve “the management, operations, and asset condition” of DCR’s infrastructure.

Jones, who lived with his family in Milton, served as inaugural editor-in-chief of the publication www.PublicHealthPost.org, an online forum for public health policy launched in November 2016, according to his biography on BU’s website.

He received his bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Canada and later earned a public health master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, a political science master’s from the University of Michigan, and a doctorate from Michigan in health services, organizations, and policy, the biography said.

The bio says Jones’s research had examined “the politics of health reform and the social determinants of health,” and that in 2017 he published a book entitled “Exchange Politics: Opposing Obamacare in Battleground States.”

That book, published by Oxford University Press, looked at how states decided which health insurance exchanges to set up as part of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, according to the biography.

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Family members, in a statement shared by the Boston University School of Public Health Tuesday, called Jones’s death “sudden, tragic, and preventable.”

“Our hope is that this unimaginable tragic loss will foster a renewed commitment to create safe and healthy environments for all people,” the statement said.

A fund-raiser for Jones’s family had raised more than $107,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.

“I simply can’t bring myself to believe that David Jones has passed,” wrote Chris Louis, a clinical associate professor at the BU School of Public Health, in a posting on Facebook tribute page set up for Jones.

“The last time I saw David in person he was so stress free,” Louis wrote. “He was happy. He had just finished his first in-person class since March 2020 and he talked about how quickly the nerves left and he loved being in front of the class. And he was a natural. Teaching came easy to David.”

Mary-Esther Wilson, Jones’s cousin, also wrote on Facebook that his death showed tomorrow is never “promised” to anyone.

“My heart goes out to my aunt, his wife, and their young children,” Wilson wrote. “I can’t imagine the pain they are feeling. I will always remember the summer I got to spend with him. I got to travel around New York City on the subway, bus, and walks. David introduced me to NY Pizza, bagels, and basketball. A country girl with her city cousin. It was an experience I will always think of when I think of him.”

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Sarah Sacuto, Jones’s widow, also remembered him via Facebook.

“The void he leaves behind is unspeakable,” Sacuto posted Sunday. “He was the most loving, kind, considerate person I knew. He was the best father. He loved to dance to Phish, be outdoors, and run. He loved unconditionally and was the proudest father to his kids. I loved him. This is likely the hardest thing we will go through as a family. Please take a minute and remember him to us- as we must go on carrying the light he gave us. We will draw strength from your memories as we travel through the darkest of times.”

Taylor Dolven of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from prior Globe stories was also used.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Elizabeth Koh can be reached at elizabeth.koh@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh.