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Public-health professor at BU dies in fall through unsafe stairs at JFK/UMass

Jones

David Jones, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, died Saturday afternoon when he fell through a rickety set of stairs between the JFK/UMass T station and Old Colony Avenue.

The Dorchester Reporter reports State Police found a missing stair above Jones's body after they and Transit Police responded around 1:30 p.m.

Despite their proximity to the train station, the MBTA says the stairs belong to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Reporter says a sign with MBTA branding at one end of the stairs said they were scheduled to be closed until "Fall, 2020." The Suffolk County District Attorney's office is now handling the investigation into what State Police called "an unintended death."

Jones, 40, joined the School of Public Health faculty in 2014 and specialized in the politics and social issues related to public health. In a message to the School of Public Health on Sunday, Dean Sandro Galea wrote:

In truth I have no words to describe the devastation of this news. David joined the School of Public Health in 2014. He has, since then, been an exemplary member of our community. He was founding Editor-in-Chief of the Public Health Post, he was awarded AUPHA’s John D. Thompson Prize for Young Investigators, AcademyHealth’s Outstanding Dissertation Award, and the BU School of Public Health Excellence in Teaching Award. He cared deeply about bridging research and policy, and conducted work in places as far as France and the Mississippi Delta. And above all David was a wonderful human being, living with integrity and a deep commitment to all we do. I have so loved all my interactions with David, I cannot really imagine what it means to not have David as part of our community.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe page for his wife and three children.

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Comments

What a senseless tragedy.

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... in the first world.

My condolences to all who are diminished by this completely unnecessary premature death.

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I wish I lived in a state where the Department of Conservation and Recreation was tasked (and budgeted) with managing parks and the department of transportation managed things like roadways and attached stairs.

DCR should have never been given MDC's responsibilities. And regardless, they can't keep cutting budgets and expecting maintenance problems to just disappear.

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Check out DCR's budget for each of the past five years. Is it budget cuts, or a failure within DCR's management to prioritize appropriately?

FY17: $86.9M
FY21: $103.3M

That's a budget growing at about 4.5% per year, well above inflation. They haven't had budget cuts -- their budget has been growing.

[To be clear, I'm not arguing that DCR shouldn't have more money to do more/better things. I'm simply pointing out that DCR hasn't actually experienced budget cuts over the past five years, in real or nominal dollars. On the contrary, their budget has grown faster than inflation.

DCR's failure to maintain safe infrastructure isn't actually a budgetary problem, it's a management problem.

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DCR's failure to maintain safe infrastructure isn't actually a budgetary problem

This statement is only true if the budgeted amount is enough in absolute terms for them to carry out their obligations. Even if the budget has grown faster than inflation for several years, it's possible that the starting point several years ago was even further below what's required than the growth could make up for. It's also possible that the prices for what DCR specifically needs have grown faster than overall inflation. Either of those would suggest there's still a budget problem.

A rising budget doesn’t mean its an appropriate amount of funding. More information is needed to make your assessment. A look back of 15 or 20 years is needed.

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Lots and lots of DCR cuts if you go back further. The whole point of the MDC merge was to cut costs.

The management of DCR sucks, no question about that. But more to the point, why is one agency tasked with everything from the random stairway and pedestrian crossing signal, to parkland, and to urban roadways?

Roads and the stairways that connect them should be the domain of MassDOT.

And $100M is peanuts when you consider all the things they manage across the state. Replacing that stairwell entirely (which is what was needed) would cost several hundred thousand.

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Why does it matter? It's not unreasonable for a parks agency to maintain a staircase. And the MDC was more than a parks agency. It was a regional services agency that originally included parks, roads, water, and sewer (until the latter two were split off into the MWRA).

Streetview from Nov 2020:

https://www.google.com/maps/@42.3213114,-71.0520472,3a,75y,268.1h,105t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sw8eN_q3TSR0v07z78MgWsQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en&authuser=0

Looks like windblown yellow safety tape was the only thing installed to close it off. Does look like it is part of the bridge and not the MBTA property though.

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If you zoom in you can see there's a portable chicken coop style fence as well (like the ones they have in stations sometimes around work areas)

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There's a fence (maybe hard to see) blocking the bottom of the stairs in the streetview above. This view of the top of the stairs from the same timeframe has a huge concrete block, plus a fence, blocking the stairs.
https://www.google.com/maps/@42.3214543,-71.0522704,3a,75y,157.91h,83.07t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sQg8Pb_tYybd2GcIj-ZNOng!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en&authuser=0

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https://tinyurl.com/xa8xrx2t

Edit: I see it's posted lower down too.

I wonder if the steps were missing or if they were there and gave way when he stepped on one.

I remember going up those stairs in 2019 (to get photos of workers repairing the damage from the Red Line train that derailed there) and they were in pretty bad shape then.

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The November 2020 Street View from Old Colony Avenue shows four steps missing, yellow tape, and fencing at the bottom of the stairs, and the Street View of the top of the stairs, also from November 2020, shows a concrete block, fencing, and a sign stating the stairs were closed.

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That fence is there at the top even in the Globe photo so did he climb the concrete block to jump the fence? Such a sad tragedy but there has to be more to this story. Something doesn't add up.

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Perhaps he was climbing the stairs rather than descending them, and there was nothing blocking off the bottom sufficiently to deter him?

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are the lowest two. (And of course the top was blocked off better.)

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but if he was going up, how could he not see the missing stairs? I assumed it was down because the field of vision would have presented a narrower view of the missing stairs.

just before the gap, perhaps to look down through the hole or take a picture, not realizing that the other steps were missing because of corrosion. It's the kind of ill-advised thing I might have done. -.-

Perhaps security cameras at the station will show if someone intentionally pulled-back the fence, the victim may have thought the stairs were open if the fence was removed.

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I actually have a picture from Jan 2020 showing the stairs in decrepit state with steps already missing. It's been blocked off since that time with fencing and a jersey barrier. You could not actually just walk onto these stairs by accident, you would have to intentionally drag the barrier out of the way. In all honesty except to get to Columbia road overpass slightly faster the stairs don't serve much of a purpose, the only time I ever used them was to watch the derailed redline train get lifted by a Crane

Yes, I often walked from Columbia Rd to the Star Market and I always used the MBTA Station Passage because it is covered and has ramps. That stairway was rickety for the last 15 years.

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The chainlink at the top of the stairs, blocking access to them from the bridge.

The Globe shot seems to be obscuring the sign in the middle of that chain link, facing the bridge. I'm not sure what that says, probably something like "don't go here"

https://goo.gl/maps/EgdwNiCM3TJworqT6

It's terrible. It sounds like he was a great guy.

Those stairs need to be torn down, pronto. That sign, the chain link fence, and the jersey barrier aren't enough to keep people safe.

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They need to be replaced, not torn down.

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to be fair they need to be replaced, but given the state's inability to do that they should be torn down in the mean time.

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That's how we keep ending up with shittier and shittier infrastructure, projects delayed and deferred indefinitely. If there aren't going to be any cars driving over it, just stick it on the back burner until everyone forgets about it. What stairs? What are you talking about?

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Circa November 2020:
https://goo.gl/maps/HYwjdpee8zFNiX3eA

Cement barrier, chainlink fence and sign "Stairs closed"

Someone needs to be held accountable but my cynicism tells me this is unlikely.

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Counter-take would be that as an adult Professor he would hold some liability as having been around long enough to know the steps were bad news. They should have been walled up better. They should have been fixed or dismantled. It could have been avoided. Those are all true but I do believe he would known the danger they posed. He has been a Professor seven years. You can see the rust and the missing steps. This is a bright intelligent person. My guess is he was curious and took a climb up to see for himself.

Who would be criminal negligent in this instance? It is easy to just blurt that out but when you go hunting for the blame it becomes much harder. Ultimately it comes down to funding.

I would personally like to see lawsuits that asked for defendants to be forced to fix these problems. If I were on a jury I would be willing to award a judgement declaring millions of dollars need to be spent to remove or fix all of the decaying infrastructure like this in the area.

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This is victim blaming pure and simple and it always seems to happen whenever pedestrians are hurt or killed in a way that could easily have been prevented, not by themselves but by actually planning for their safety.

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The purpose of punishment is to incentivize those responsible to do their job. This deteriorating staircase has been a problem for years and the initial response is squabbling over who is actually responsible for the upkeep of this section of stairs. I'm not appreciating your point at all. You really just want to get the MBTA and DCR together and say, "c'mon guys, let's just fix this thing." Someone died and 3 kids are going to grow up without their dad. Yes, someone should be held accountable. If no one is in charge of fixing these stairs, and therefore no one to to blame directly, then you don't think there's a highly dysfunctional organization responsible with inept leadership?

So if you don't take that route every day you should just DIE.

And if somebody made it look like it was okay to go that way, well, that's what you get for not living here all your life blah blah blah blah and being outside your "assigned home zone".

Right. Makes soooo much sense. Kill all the newcomers, visitors, etc.

Go pound sand.

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The MBTA has had several questionable homicides lately from people falling off the roofs of garages to the tragic death of the young woman at Back Bay station found in a loft in the station. The Transit Police have to do a better job investigating tragedies instead of responding 'Its not on us."

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Why do these things sit for years and year rusting away until they're literally collapsing and killing people? Why is continued preventative maintenance not a thing here? Why do the smallest projects take the longest time to complete in the most incompetent, VE'd way?

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In this case the answer appears to be beaurocracy. At least three government entities which could have fixed the stairs, each determined they belonged to some other government entity which is supposed to fix the stairs.

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That's why we need 3 trillion in infrastructure, because "moderate" democrats and power hungry republican's refuse to legislate and refuse to tax anyone but the middle class. Of course it is a ridiculous amount of money, but that's what happens when our elected officials grandstand instead of working.

The city and state will send out countless snow plows and sand trucks at the mere threat of a little bit of snow. The budget for this is literally limitless. Yet if you are walking on two feet you are treated as disposable and get close to no infrastructure spending from the city and state. And you have to shovel the sidewalk and crosswalks and ramps.

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nm

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What about what he just stated isn't true?

I think the CARS HAVE RIGHTS idiots are the johnny one notes around here.

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Car And Driver and the World's Foremost Authority have identified the perp - the automobile driver.

Why do these things sit for years and year rusting away until they're literally collapsing and killing people? Why is continued preventative maintenance not a thing here?

Because maintenance isn't sexy.
Maintenance is an expense, not an investment.
No politician has gotten his picture taken when a roof gets repaired at a school.

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Charlie Baker needs to appoint a Special Task Force to answer all of them!

Ironic that he's a public health professor. What a way to go, poor guy

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As usual the MBTA starts the damaging controlling blame game. How often is MBTA property inspected?????????????????

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This isn't MBTA property.

And even if it were, both ends of this staircase have been fenced off for many months and the MBTA posted a sign saying the stairs are closed so I can pretty much guarantee you that the MBTA is as aware of the situation as possible and additional inspections would be useless. What's needed are repairs.

Unfortunately this is just one of many fatalities ahead of us if we don't start rebuilding our roads and bridges. Everyone is so worried about climate change wr better start worrying about our infrastructure. Rest in peace my friend!! Soooo preventable

F'king infuriating. There needs to be actual accountability wherever the facts lead. What the hell is it with this place? World class city!

The Globe article linked in a different comment notes that Jones was out for a jog, his wife characterizes it as Jones “accidentally” accessed the staircase, and the State Police spokesperson said that the fence at the bottom and the Jersey barrier at the top were in place yesterday. Furthermore Neal observed above that the Google street view from 202 shows 4 steps missing and I checked a street view from Columbia Rd showing the barrier and fencing at the top of the stairs.

With all sympathy to the widow and family, the rational conclusion is that Jones was intentionally in a place where he knew he should not have been. He doesn’t deserve death and I am not trying to shame the poor guy for what seems like an avoidable, yet fatal, mistake. But unless some elaborate conspiracy is revealed where Jones was murdered and the crime scene was staged as an accident, it seems like Jones was a too-curious urban explorer or he wanted to use the closed stairs as a way to avoid the rotary.

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One would have to have to knowingly bypass the fencing to get to the stairs. But one might get distracted and not see the missing steps, or think you could safely jump them, or step on one of the two steps next to the missing ones and then the step you're on gives way.

Gives me the shivers thinking of the times I don't pay attention to warning signs.

Still a horrific tragedy. Deep condolences to the family.

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I walk and run by these stairs several times a week and I was struggling to articulate this in a way that doesn't victim-blame, because obviously no one deserves to die for a momentary error in judgment several miles into a long run.

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That stairway was recently blocked off (and remained so, as far as I know).

There are frequently issues getting the state to maintain road infrastructure where it intersects closely with city roads and property. Centre St in West Roxbury is state road from the Arborway rotary to the VFW parkway but it’s city owned before and after those points. A family member of mine who managed one of the properties on that stretch had a hell of a time getting anyone out to deal with road issues - a surprising number of telephone poles have fallen into the roadway there. Whenever they’d make calls to the state the people who picked up would try to argue that it was city road.

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Centre St in that area is a DCR road, isn't it?

All the photos in media where the bottom of the staircase is blocked off with chicken wire have 6 steps already missing, so they must be post-accident. Are there any pre-accident photos that show only 4 steps missing and how well was the bottom entrance protected?

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The photos linked above are from Google Street view. They show the top and bottom of the stairs blocked off in Nov 2020. And one that Neal above linked to shows 4 steps missing in Nov 2020.

As to how well protected the bottom entrance was, the posts the chain link was attached to weren't in the ground. They were held there by something that could be moved by someone strong enough (zoom in to see). Typical construction fencing. See it all the time.

Even with posts driven and cemented into the ground, people do what they want to do. I've never used wire cutters, but have climbed over fences.

The photos Boston 25 has from Google Earth show an extremely lightweight fence at the bottom that is on a base that you can easily slide around. You can't tell if it's even zip tied in place. There's no signage. It also looks like a place that people might like to access during bad weather or to get out of view, which could be why the fence would have been moved.

The guy was an ultra-marathoner and if he was in the zone with music on, zoomed up a stairwell, it'd likely be too late before he noticed the steps were gone. This wasn't some kid doing parkour for instagram.

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https://311.report/report/101003320833

or here from the city's website:
https://mayors24.cityofboston.gov/reports/101003320833

Staircase from bridge to MBTA bus station has collapsed and has not been repaired in nearly a year. When will these stairs be replaced?

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Beyond the fact that this is an entirely preventable tragedy which falls squarely at the hands of the DCR and that heads should roll over this (but won't).

1) The DCR loves talking about safety … when it comes to cars. I've spent a lot of time with the DCR where they've said they can't narrow lanes on one of their roadways despite their own guidelines requiring them to do so because "something something safety." So when it comes to the parts of the DCR that cars drive over, safety is an issue. But other users? Who really cares.

2) "But we don't have the money!" I'm sure the DCR would say.

Will someone, anyone, please explain how there seems to be plenty of money to repave roadways, and no one sees the agency sticking their hand out asking for a donation there but when it comes to other properties, the DCR can't seem to find the money in the couch cushions to make improvements.

3) I assume part of the hold up here is that changes to the staircase would require ADA accessibility. In which case, it falls to the legislature and governor. But I'm sure Governor Teflon won't face any blame here, it's not like a state agency is at fault or anything.

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Looking at the street view it seems like it would be easy to rearrange what looks to be a temp job (from 2 years ago). Someone could have messed with it and the victim was unaware.

An avoidable tragedy…Godspeed.