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Family of BU professor who fell to his death in Dorchester sues MBTA, MassDOT

An associate professor at Boston University was killed on Sept. 11, 2021, when he fell from a dilapidated state-owned staircase near a Dorchester T stop. His family is now suing Massachusetts transportation authorities and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The family of a professor from Milton who was killed last year when he fell from a dilapidated state-owned staircase near a Dorchester T stop is suing Massachusetts transportation authorities, saying their negligence led directly to his death.

“David Jones’s wrongful death and the damage to his estate were the direct and proximate result of the carelessness, recklessness and negligence of the defendant, MBTA,” according to the suit filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court.

In addition to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the suit names the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as a defendant. The suit was brought by Jones’s widow, Sarah Sacuto on behalf of herself, Jones’s estate, and their three minor children.

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Representatives of the T and MassDOT said in e-mails Thursday that neither agency publicly comments on pending litigation. A message left with the attorney representing Sacuto was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Jones, a 40-year-old associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health’s department of Health Law, Policy and Management, was jogging along a street near the JFK/UMass Station in Dorchester on Sept. 11, 2021 before climbing up the stairs.

Video surveillance clips and accident scene photos do not show how Jones stepped past the fencing intended to keep the public off the stairs. Photos taken after the accident do, however, show a gap between the fencing and the stairwell and no signs announcing the closure on that section of fencing. The cameras did not capture whether he fell through a gap where the stairs were already missing or steps collapsed underneath him.

The metal structure, which is outside the busy stop on the Red Line and commuter rail, had been rusting for months and was missing several steps near the top long before Jones’s death, earlier photos have shown. The stairs had been closed off since January 2020 with fencing, officials said at the time.

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In the complaint, Sacuto asserts that in the years leading up to the day of her husband’s death, state officials failed to maintain the staircase in a safe condition. The filing also says that authorities failed to follow their own policies, which would have properly sealed off the staircase from the public.

“Immediately after the incident that took David Jones’s life, the defendants posted various warning signs and made the access point utilized by David Jones completely inaccessible, just as they were obligated to do from the moment the ‘subject staircase’ was deemed by the defendants as too dangerous to be used by the general public,” read the complaint.

Issues with the staircase had been flagged repeatedly after the structure was first closed, according to e-mails among transit officials released late last year, though records show state officials were slow to act on multiple warnings about its deteriorating condition.

After Jones’ death, state agencies struggled to clarify which entity was responsible for the structure, which sits near MBTA property but was in the care and custody of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation after property bordering it was transferred from the state’s parks department.

Almost immediately after the accident, transportation officials issued an emergency work order to remove the staircase, 20 months after it had first been closed, and demolished the structure the following weekend.

The death of the popular public health professor also prompted investigations by both the State Police and the Suffolk district attorney into how Jones was able to access the closed-off staircase.

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Earlier this year, the district attorney’s office announced it would not file criminal charges in the death.

Elizabeth Koh of Globe staff contributed to this report.




Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.