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Man killed by SMART train in Santa Rosa, second person to die this week on the tracks

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SMART Train Deadly Crashes

Eight people have been struck and killed by SMART trains since the rail system began operating in August 2017.

Jan. 31, 2018: Marion Harrison, 64, of Santa Rosa was standing on the tracks when she was struck and killed by a train near Hearn Avenue. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Aug. 13, 2018: Marcia Eleanor Fisher, 72, was hit by a SMART train at the Hamilton Station in Novato. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Aug. 30, 2018: Joseph De Frates, 29, was wearing headphones and looking down when he walked into the path of a northbound train on Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park. His death was ruled an accident.

Nov. 16, 2018: Michael Rosenberg, 68, died in an early morning crash when he was hit by a southbound train near the Hearn Avenue pedestrian crossing. Authorities said he had his back to the train and did not respond to the engineer’s horn, leading officials to rule his death a suicide.

June 27, 2019: Jimmie Joy Qualls, 30, went under lowered gates on Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park in an apparent attempt to beat a northbound train. Although the investigation is ongoing, officials believe her death was accidental.

June 28, 2019: Gary Raymond Danning, 66, of Santa Rosa, rode his bicycle into the path of a train crossing Golf Course Drive near Commerce Boulevard. He had a hood on and his head down, and may have been wearing headphones. Although the investigation is ongoing, officials believe his death was accidental.

July 9, 2019: Keith Marcum, 68, of Rohnert Park, was lying on the tracks when he was hit by the SMART train near Scenic Drive. His death is believed to be a suicide.

July 12, 2019: A man who has not yet been identified was hit by a train near the San Miguel Road track crossing in Santa Rosa.

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Resources For Help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

A second pedestrian this week was struck and killed by a SMART train Friday afternoon in Santa Rosa, the fourth death on the passenger rail line in about two weeks.

Authorities think two men who died Wednesday and Friday intended to take their lives. Friday’s death was the eighth along the tracks since the rail service from San Rafael to Sonoma County airport started in August 2017. Three have been deemed accidents and five are suspected suicides.

The four deaths this year have all occurred in the past two weeks, two of them at the same rail crossing in Rohnert Park. The Rohnert Park crashes are believed to have been accidents.

By comparison, the Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail system, which carries 126 million passengers annually in four counties, has had five pedestrian collisions in 2019. Three people have died.

The unidentified man was hit shortly before 3 p.m. Friday by the southbound Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train near the San Miguel Road track crossing. He was pronounced dead at the scene, the Santa Rosa Police Department said in a statement. Trains reach a top speed of 79 mph where the man was struck, rail agency officials said.

“It’s tragic,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, said in an interview Friday night. “Your heart stops for the train crew; it stops for the victim’s family, for the passengers, for everyone who is affected.”

Mansourian said the recent train deaths represent a much larger issue than train safety that requires an aggressive, collaborative response from the entire community of local government, public safety, mental health and media professionals.

“Suicide is a community issue,” he said, “and we need everybody’s help. SMART cannot solve the suicide and mental health issue.”

Nevertheless, Mansourian said the rail agency will consider taking whatever additional safety steps are necessary to prevent more deaths on the tracks, including slowing the trains at certain crossings and hiring more safety officers to monitor the rail line.

The man killed Friday was seen loitering near the tracks before the train came. Witnesses said rail crossing arms were down and the train blew its horn several times before the man was struck, police said. Based on video from the train, police think the man took his own life. The Sonoma County Coroner’s Office had not identified him Friday night, police said.

“SMART has become a ‘death train’ for those in the community that have come to the end of their rope,” said Felix Huerta, a union official of Operating Engineers Local Union 3, representing 28 local SMART employees in contract negotiations with the rail agency. “The cities, counties and the communities have to come up with a solution to homelessness, housing and the alienation of the have-nots for this to stop.”

Union representatives and SMART officials plan to meet Monday to discuss safety issues regarding the trains and rail line, Huerta said.

SMART Police Chief Jennifer McGill said each train-related death gets investigated to determine the unique circumstances. But she also said the suicidal acts point to a broader, community problem.

Mansourian said the rail agency’s board of directors will gather Wednesday to discuss the series of train fatalities and related issues. Earlier this week, SMART began installing sidewalk fencing dubbed a Z gate at 30 of its 62 road-level crossings. The deadly Golf Course Drive crossing in Rohnert Park, where two people were run over by trains on back-to-back mornings in late June, was the first place to get the safety enhancement.

SMART Train Deadly Crashes

Eight people have been struck and killed by SMART trains since the rail system began operating in August 2017.

Jan. 31, 2018: Marion Harrison, 64, of Santa Rosa was standing on the tracks when she was struck and killed by a train near Hearn Avenue. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Aug. 13, 2018: Marcia Eleanor Fisher, 72, was hit by a SMART train at the Hamilton Station in Novato. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Aug. 30, 2018: Joseph De Frates, 29, was wearing headphones and looking down when he walked into the path of a northbound train on Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park. His death was ruled an accident.

Nov. 16, 2018: Michael Rosenberg, 68, died in an early morning crash when he was hit by a southbound train near the Hearn Avenue pedestrian crossing. Authorities said he had his back to the train and did not respond to the engineer’s horn, leading officials to rule his death a suicide.

June 27, 2019: Jimmie Joy Qualls, 30, went under lowered gates on Golf Course Drive in Rohnert Park in an apparent attempt to beat a northbound train. Although the investigation is ongoing, officials believe her death was accidental.

June 28, 2019: Gary Raymond Danning, 66, of Santa Rosa, rode his bicycle into the path of a train crossing Golf Course Drive near Commerce Boulevard. He had a hood on and his head down, and may have been wearing headphones. Although the investigation is ongoing, officials believe his death was accidental.

July 9, 2019: Keith Marcum, 68, of Rohnert Park, was lying on the tracks when he was hit by the SMART train near Scenic Drive. His death is believed to be a suicide.

July 12, 2019: A man who has not yet been identified was hit by a train near the San Miguel Road track crossing in Santa Rosa.

_____

Resources For Help

North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373

NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655

Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181

For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org

Huerta, the union leader, has called for SMART to hire more safety enforcement officers to monitor activity along the 43-mile rail line since the entire job now is done by only one person.

Mansourian said Friday that “everything is on the table” regarding rail safety upgrades and public outreach to try to prevent suicide by train.

“SMART is committed to doing anything and everything the professionals say we should do to combat mental health issues and suicides, which is what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Meanwhile, passengers Friday were taken off the train about a quarter-mile south of the Santa Rosa crash site just before 4 p.m. and offered transportation by bus or van.

The crash disrupted SMART rail service for a little more than two hours. Service resumed at 5:19 p.m., said rail agency spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding. San Miguel Road was closed to vehicle traffic, but still accessible to pedestrians, between Santiago and Bock from about 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Nick Martinez, who was on the train at the time of the collision, said he didn’t know the train had hit a pedestrian until a SMART employee told him.

“The brakes slammed really hard. ... It just sounded like a bunch of stuff was falling,” he said. “One of the workers came and said there’s been a casualty.”

Cody Kay, who was also onboard, said the train hit an object less than five minutes after leaving the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport station, and came to a stop 30 seconds later.

“I could see debris on either side,” Kay said, noting he didn’t realize the object was a person until a SMART employee informed him.

David Rabbitt, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and a director on the SMART board, called Friday’s train fatality a tragedy the rail agency could not necessarily have prevented.

“Any death is one too many, but again, suicide is a societal issue that we’ve been struggling with at every level of government,” he said.

“We need to figure out better mental health systems and taking care of one another better.”

Kay had a message for anyone who might be considering taking his or her life on the train tracks.

“Someone loves you,” he said. “No matter who you are, someone loves you.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of SMART Police Chief Jennifer McGill.

Staff Writers Alexandria Bordas and Kevin Fixler contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @iambeale.

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