The family of a Wilmington woman killed by a commuter train as she drove across a rail crossing last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against Keolis Commuter Services, arguing that a worker performing scheduled maintenance failed to reactivate the crossing’s safety system shortly before the crash.
Roberta Sausville Devine, 68, was driving along Route 62 around 6 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2022, when she drove into the crossing, and was struck by the train, which was traveling at about 50 miles per hour, according to the complaint, filed in Middlesex Superior Court.
The force of the impact pushed her car about 500 feet down the track, “resulting in the completely avoidable death of Ms. Devine,” the complaint said.
The day after the crash, then-MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said “human error” was the primary focus of an investigation by authorities, which included the Middlesex district attorney’s office, MBTA Transit Police, State Police, and the Federal Railroad Administration.
A Keolis signal maintainer had been performing regularly scheduled testing and preventative maintenance of the railroad crossing’s safety system less than an hour before the accident, Poftak said at the time.
A few days later, Keolis, which operates the commuter rail system under contract from the MBTA, announced the worker had been placed on administrative leave.
The family’s complaint repeats many of the same details authorities released in the immediate aftermath of the crash, but argues that in the nearly two years since Devine’s death, no one has been held accountable.
“It’s just so hard to understand — they came out so fast saying that it was human error,” said Celeste Edmundson, Devine’s sister. “And so what is the problem? You know, take responsibility.”
“Clearly, they admitted that, and then they turn around and act like nothing ever happened,” Edmundson said in an interview.
The family is also angry that authorities have withheld records from the crash, they said. They sued the MBTA and MassDOT in Suffolk Superior Court earlier this year after the MBTA refused to release crash records in response to a public records request.
State authorities cited the ongoing investigation into the crash as the reason for not releasing the records, according to court papers in the Suffolk case, which is ongoing.
David Hoey, the family’s attorney, expressed frustration with how this crash could have occurred.
“I mean, look at it -- it’s 2022 when this happened. We’re advanced enough so that things like this shouldn’t happen anymore,” Hoey said in an interview.
The suit seeks a jury trial, and compensatory and punitive damages.
Sheri Warrington, a spokesperson for Keolis, said in an email late Wednesday that the company had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.
Officials released no new information in the crash investigation Wednesday.
Representatives for the MBTA and State Police referred comment to the Middlesex district attorney’s office Wednesday.
Meghan Kelly, a Middlesex district attorney’s spokesperson, and Warren Flatau, a spokesperson for the Federal Railroad Administration, said the crash investigation was ongoing.
Last year, Poftak said authorities’ preliminary finding in the investigation was that the crossing’s safety system — which triggered gates that lower into position at the approach of a train — had not been returned to its normal operating mode after the Keolis employee completed the work.
That meant as the commuter rail train approached the crossing that night, the gates did not come down “in a timely manner,” according to the statement.
No defects or other problems with the crossing’s safety system were found immediately after the crash, Poftak said at the time.
About a month after the crash, the MBTA and Keolis announced steps to improve the safety at all crossings. Those measures included requiring rail dispatchers to request and receive confirmation that the safety system was enabled after maintenance work, according to a statement.
Devine, called “Robbi” by her friends and loved ones, was a Vermont native who spent years as a performer traveling across Europe, spoke with a British accent, and was a marvelous singer and actor, her sister said.
She loved her work for the US Department of Veterans Affairs, her family said. She had been an EEG technician, performing neurological studies at facilities in the Boston area, including West Roxbury. She retired in September 2021.
She was devoted to her family. Devine was like a second mother to Edmundson’s six children, her sister said. “They were like her own,” she said.
Edmundson said she can clearly recall details of the night her sister died. Edmundson and her husband were watching the evening news when they saw a report of a commuter rail striking a vehicle in Wilmington.
Edmundson knew her sister would take that train into work, and texted her to see if she was onboard that train. Devine never replied, she said.
Later that night, police officers came to her door.
“ ‘They say, ‘Do you have a sister Roberta?’ ” Edmundson recalled. “Immediately, I knew what had [happened] — that it was Robbi who had been killed by the train.”
Edmundson said the lawsuit was filed on what would have been her sister’s 70th birthday.
“We would of course be celebrating with her, and it’s just so difficult not having her here,” Edmundson said.
Nearly two years since the crash, Devine’s loved ones believe they have been forgotten by state authorities, she said.
“It just makes you feel that Robbi’s death just doesn’t matter to them,” Edmundson said. “So they need to know that we’re not going away. We’re not just giving up on her.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.