The family of a woman killed at a Wilmington railroad crossing Friday demanded accountability in the case Sunday, a day after investigators said a safety system was not restored to its normal operation following scheduled maintenance, which kept gates from lowering for an approaching train.
Robbi Sausville Devine, 68, of Wilmington, was killed after her vehicle was struck by the MBTA commuter rail train while traveling eastbound on Middlesex Avenue near the MBTA station.
Human error is the primary focus of investigators, according to MBTA general manager Steve Poftak Saturday.
Now Sausville Devine’s loved ones — who remembered her Sunday as a generous, loving woman — are grappling with her sudden, senseless death, according to her stepson, James Devine.
“We’re devastated [that this] kind of mistake can affect our family,” Devine said in a phone interview from his home in Texas. “We’re going to wait for a full report. But we clearly see that there needs to be accountability.
“We expect our seat belts to work. We expect elevators to work. We expect crossing gates to work,” he said.
Sausville Devine, a Vermont native whose travels across Europe with a musical production company left with her a British accent, had a varied career, which included teaching English as a second language and returning to school later in life to become a health care worker.
She worked in Veterans Affairs facilities in the Boston area, including West Roxbury, Devine said, and was committed to health care.
“She gave 100 percent in terms of herself and caring for other people. If she wanted to do something, she wanted to do it well,” Devine said. “All of her personal connections were very important to her — friends, family.”
“She was an incredibly loving woman,” Devine said.
On Friday, Sausville Devine was headed in the direction of her Linda Road home around 5:51 p.m. when her vehicle was struck on the driver’s side by an inbound Haverhill Line train near the North Wilmington MBTA Station, officials have said.
Less than an hour before the accident, a signal maintainer for Keolis Commuter Services was performing regularly scheduled testing and preventative maintenance of the railroad crossing’s safety system, Poftak said in a statement Saturday night.
Investigators’ preliminary finding was that the crossing’s safety system was not returned to its normal operating mode, the statement said. That failure resulted in the crossing gates not coming down “in a timely manner” as the train approached Middlesex Avenue.
No defects or other problems with the railroad crossing system have been found, Poftak said Saturday.
Officials released no new details Sunday in the investigation, which is being conducted by the Middlesex district attorney’s office, Massachusetts State Police, and MBTA Transit Police.
The crash is also being investigated by federal regulators.
“The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the train-vehicle collision that occurred in North Wilmington, given reports that the grade crossing active warning devices did not function as intended,” a spokesman said in a statement Sunday.
Sheri Warrington, a Keolis spokeswoman, said in a statement Sunday that Keolis is committed to working with investigators to “identify and address the circumstances of this heartbreaking accident.”
Keolis’s deepest sympathies were with Sausville Devine’s family and loved ones, according to the statement.
Warrington declined to comment on the status of the worker involved in the case.
“With regard to the signal maintainer, we do not comment publicly on internal personnel matters but will continue to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation,” the statement said.
Local elected leaders have also demanded accountability. The Wilmington Board of Selectmen raised questions about the rail crossing in a statement Saturday.
In a joint statement released late Saturday night, three state lawmakers — Republican Senator Bruce Tarr, along with Democratic Representatives Dave Robertson and Ken Gordon — also called for action in the investigation.
“There needs to be a full understanding of, and accounting for, the events that caused the death of Ms. Sausville,” the lawmakers said in the statement.
Sausville Devine would have also demanded answers if she lost someone under similar circumstances, according to her stepson.
He grew up in Sausville Devine’s home in Wilmington and is very familiar with the crossing, he said.
“Robbi, she’d be the first person to be speaking up if a tragedy like this happened to someone she loved,” Devine said. “She was energetic, she was outspoken, she didn’t shy away.”
Sausville Devine, who was originally from Bennington, Vt., spent several years touring Europe acting and singing as part of a musical production company.
“The joke my dad used to tell was, her dialect coach was so good, she never dropped the accent,” Devine said.
Eventually, she found her way to Massachusetts, where she earned a degree from Labouré College of Healthcare, he said.
Sausville Devine retired in September, but had planned on returning to work to help her former colleagues, he said.
“She cared about her coworkers” at Veterans Affairs, he said.
Sausville Devine also had a large family, with members living along the East Coast, Devine said. She would frequently travel to visit them and was known for making puppets and other gifts for younger children.
She also continued performing and sang in local choruses, including one in Ipswich, he said.
She met Devine’s father, Dan, around 2002. The couple spent a lot of time together, traveling to places like Mexico and Alaska. They married on New Year’s Eve 2004.
They spent several happy years together before his father’s death in November 2012, Devine said. After he was gone, she missed him terribly and posted loving messages to him on Facebook.
Those who met her, Devine said, “knew how she cared about him, and how much she still thought of him daily.”
The last time Devine spoke with his stepmother was to exchange New Year’s greetings in text messages on her wedding anniversary, he said.
Now her family members are coming together to plan her funeral and pay tribute. Over the past few days, he’s been fielding phone calls in Texas from those who knew Sausville Devine and wanted to offer their condolences, he said.
“A lot of people are going to miss her,” Devine said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.