Inspector’s report details elevator accident that fatally crushed Boston University lecturer

BOSTON — An inspection report released Friday details the grisly death of a well-liked Boston University lecturer, who was killed last month as she tried to maneuver a large package into an old-fashioned “birdcage” elevator at her apartment building.

Carrie O’Connor, 38, was a French lecturer at the university, according to her university bio. A native of Attleboro, Massachusetts, she taught at Bentley University, Louisiana State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Tufts University before landing in Boston.

She died at her apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue, located in the Allston section of Boston. According to neighbors, she had moved in just weeks before her death.

Witnesses told Boston 25 News that O’Connor was loading her package onto the elevator around 5 p.m. Sept. 14 when the car appeared to suddenly plummet, with the doors still open, from the first floor toward the basement of the building.

“I heard just an ungodly scream and we ran into the hallway and saw a gentlemen who was in distress, screaming and hyperventilating, and saying, ‘She’s dead, she’s dead,’” one resident, who asked not to give her name, told the news station.

O’Connor died of traumatic asphyxia, the station reported.

An incident report written by Martin Guiod, an inspector for the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Inspections, stated that he found no malfunction in the elevator’s operation.

Guiod details what led to O’Connor’s death, which was caught on building security footage.

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Guiod wrote that the footage shows O’Connor moving a 79-pound package into the elevator. The package, which he measured after the accident, was 7.5 feet long and 12 inches wide.

“The package had signage that stated ‘Team Lift,’ indicating that more than one person was needed to move the package,” Guiod wrote.

Once O’Connor got the package partially onto the elevator, a neighbor briefly helped by holding the hoist way door, or outer door, open. The hoist way door on the 60-year-old elevator was manual, as was the elevator’s interior door, or car gate.

To make the elevator go up or down, the passenger must hit a switch inside the car. The switch is also automatically activated once the car gate is securely closed.

As her fellow resident held the hoist way door open for her, O’Connor struggled to fit her package completely into the elevator car. She could be seen holding the car gate open with her right hip.

Once O’Connor had the package through the hoist way door, the neighbor closed that door behind her and left the area, Guiod wrote.

Meanwhile, in the basement, a maintenance worker pressed the elevator call button to go upstairs.

“With the elevator being called to the basement, I know as an inspector that at this point, the only thing keeping the elevator from running in the down direction is that the car gate switch was not activated,” Guiod wrote.

The security footage shows O’Connor, who is still holding the car gate door open with her hip, struggling to fit the large box into the elevator vertically. As she does so, the box makes contact with the car gate switch.

The elevator starts to go down.

“At this time, the victim loses control of the package and it comes off the gate switch and the elevator stops,” Guiod wrote. “At this time, the victim is still visible through the hoist way door on the video.”

The elevator car is stopped between the first floor and the basement floor and, because the inner door remains open, the front of the hoist way — better known as the elevator shaft — is exposed, the inspector wrote.

Read the report from the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Inspections below.

Once again, O’Connor is seen in the footage trying to move the package. Squatting, with her back to the front of the exposed shaft, she pushes the package up.

The box again strikes the car gate switch, which gets the elevator moving downward again.

O’Conner vanishes from view.

“Based on my knowledge of the elevator and the hoist way construction, (O’Connor) disappearing from the video indicates that she had fallen backwards into the hoist way between the first floor and the basement floor,” Guiod wrote.

At some point in the car’s downward motion, the box stopped making contact with the car gate switch, stopping the elevator.

Fire department medics called to the scene found O’Connor pinned between the hoist way wall and the elevator car. They had to access the car through the emergency hatch to remove her body.

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O’Connor’s obituary states that she earned a bachelor’s degree in French and another in accounting and information systems from Virginia Tech. She studied in Paris, where she earned a master’s degree from Middlebury College.

She later earned her doctorate in French studies from LSU, where she worked on the LSU in Paris summer program.

“Always an innovator in the classroom, Carrie used the city of Paris as a tool for teaching, holding her class in different locations throughout the city, depending on the literary setting of the assigned reading,” the obituary read. “This brought the literature to life for the students and created connections to the city that were not easily forgotten. Carrie loved rediscovering Paris each summer through the eyes of her students.”

O’Connor’s mother, Christal O’Connor, told Boston University Today, the university’s newspaper, that her daughter was a born student.

“Once she learned to read when she was just a little one, we used to have to bribe her to stop her reading and get outside,” Christal O’Connor said.

It apparently worked because Carrie O’Connor was an avid traveler whose mantra was “luggage should never be dusty,” the story reported.

The lecturer had just begun her second academic year as a full-time member of Boston University’s Department of Romance Studies. Prior to that, she had taught part-time in the department for two years.

“Already then, and even more so now, she was an intrinsic part of the French section and the department at large,” Odile Cazenave, chair of the department, wrote in an email to O’Connor’s colleagues. “As I spoke with her parents this morning, I let them know how much Carrie is very much alive and part of our department.”

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