ATTEMPTING SUICIDE IS treated as a crime in a handful of countries around the world, but not in the United States – which is why the MBTA’s decision to seek criminal charges against a man who endangered the safety of passengers while allegedly trying to commit suicide at the Alewife Station parking garage is so unusual.
The MBTA Police earlier this week released a statement saying they intend to pursue charges against an unidentified man who drove his vehicle into a cement retaining wall on the top of the Alewife Station parking garage at 1:30 p.m. on February 4.
The collision knocked the retaining wall off the roof and onto the glass ceiling below of the mezzanine station area, sending glass and concrete showering down on at least eight passengers and shutting the station and the garage for many days. One person was injured; the mezzanine area is still closed.
The MBTA’s interim general manager, Jeffrey Gonneville, estimated the cost of the shutdown and repairs would be $1 million at a minimum. He also said the human cost could have been enormous. “This could have absolutely been a horrific event,” he said.
According to the MBTA Police statement, a T police officer heard the crash and ran up to the garage roof, where he found a white Honda Civic hanging off the edge of the roof above the mezzanine area of the station.
“As the officer approached the vehicle, he observed a 29-year-old male, determined to be from Medford, lying on the ground next to the driver’s side open door. The male was conscious but not alert. Shortly thereafter, the driver ceased breathing. The officer immediately began life saving measures with positive results. Upon arrival of EMTs, care of the driver was transferred to them,” the statement said.
“Based on statements made by the driver to the responding officer, interviews conducted with the driver’s immediate family member as well as the follow-up investigation conducted by Transit Police detectives, we believe the driver’s actions were intentional and he was seeking to harm himself,” the T statement said.
The MBTA Police, after conferring with the Middlesex district attorney’s office, concluded the driver operated his vehicle in a “reckless and negligent manner” and should be charged with operating to endanger and eight counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon – “to wit: glass, steel, concrete.” The T is also asking that the man’s driver’s license be revoked.
United for Global Mental Health, a nonprofit seeking to improve mental health around the world, issued a report in 2021 on the dangers of criminalizing suicide. The first line of the report summarized the organization’s stance. “The criminalisation and punishment of individuals who engage in suicidal behaviour creates a huge obstacle to accessing appropriate and adequate mental healthcare, which is a fundamental human right,” the report said.
The MBTA normally takes no action against individuals who attempt suicide on T property. On January 31, for example, a man miraculously survived after jumping in front of a Red Line train at Park Street Station. He ended up between the tracks, trapped underneath the train. Neither he nor anyone else was seriously injured. The biggest impact was felt by Red Line riders, who were inconvenienced when the subway line was shut down while a swarm of first responders got the man out.
The collateral damage of the Alewife incident was much greater and went beyond inconveniencing Red Line riders to threatening their actual safety. It’s unclear yet whether the driver meant to harm anyone but himself, but the T believes the danger to other passengers requires pushing ahead with criminal charges.
“The MBTA is cognizant of how this type of incident impacts the workforce and the T has made counseling available to any employees who wish to take advantage of it,” a T spokesman said.
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