Man fatally struck by SMART train in Rohnert Park

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A northbound SMART commuter train struck and killed a man on the railroad tracks in Rohnert Park near Commerce Boulevard late Thursday afternoon, police said.

It was the third pedestrian fatality involving a SMART train for the year-old North Bay commuter rail service. Both previous deaths were considered suicides.

The 29-year-old man, who carried no identification, was found lying on the ground near a fence about 10 yards from the tracks by Rohnert Park officers who arrived two minutes after receiving calls about the incident.

His identity will not be released until his next of kin have been notified, Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Cmdr. Aaron Johnson said in a statement Thursday night.

Johnson also said it had not been determined whether the death was a suicide.

The man’s body, covered by a tarp, was seen lying west of the tracks. Some of his personal belongings, such as a baseball cap and jacket, were tagged and numbered. Some of the belongings were located close to the tarp while others were farther away.

Investigators interviewed train passengers as well as several other witnesses who were in the area, Johnson said. The train was carrying 84 people.

One witness said the man, who appeared to have headphones on his ears, was walking on the sidewalk with his head down looking at something in his hands. The witness said he saw the train approaching from the south and was surprised the man continued walking, Johnson said.

The witness heard the train horn sounding, and the man continued walking into the train’s path.

The train engineer told investigators he briefly saw the man walking toward the track and sounded the horn, Johnson said. The engineer activated the emergency braking system and the train came to a stop about 300 feet from where it hit the man.

An inspection by Rohnert Park traffic investigators and SMART personnel found all warning devices were “activated and functional” at the crossing and on the train, Johnson said.

The train was heading into a designated quiet zone, which does not require sounding the horn, but it was determined the engineer did so in an attempt to alert the pedestrian, he said.

The train’s speed was unknown, pending retrieval of an electronic data module from the train, Johnson said.

SMART Police Chief Jennifer Welch could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Santa Rosa resident Jasmin Aceves was riding the train home from work in Novato with her husband, Anthony Hernandez. She heard the train sound its horn but at first “it just felt like normal braking,” she said.

“Everyone was calm, just confused as to why we were braking,” said Aceves, 23. “Then we saw we stopped under the bridge and that’s when we knew something was wrong.”

Laura Bartholomew, a Los Angeles resident, was riding the train to visit a friend in Windsor when the collision happened. At first, she didn’t realize there was a problem.

“The horn was honking for quite a bit, it seemed,” she said. “Then my water bottle flew and hit the seat across from me. Then I knew (the engineer) was trying to stop in a hurry.”

All passengers were allowed off the train and escorted to the Park and Ride where they got alternative transportation. Two passengers who were on their way to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport for a flight were given a ride there by a Rohnert Park police officer.

A bus bridge was established to take passengers to the other stations to the north. Trains remained in service between Rohnert Park and San Rafael.

Two other people have been struck and killed by commuter trains since SMART began operations in August 2017.

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

Santa Rosa police ruled her death a suicide, saying she had been warned of the train’s approach by its blaring horns and made no effort to get out of the way. A video showed the woman was facing the train when she was struck, police said.

The southbound train did not have time to stop before it struck Harrison, who appeared to have died instantly, police said.

A 72-year-old woman who was crawling on the tracks near Novato was hit by a train on Aug. 13

The woman, Marcia Eleanor Fisher, was struck by a southbound train approaching the Hamilton Station in Novato with two dozens passengers on board, Novato police said.

A SMART conductor sounded the train’s horn multiple times prior to the collision, leading investigators to initially consider it a suicide.

The commuter trains have been involved in two other incidents.

A 19-year-old Santa Rosa man was struck by a train while riding his bike across the tracks on West Steele Lane on Oct. 20. He was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with injuries that did not appear immediately life-threatening, police said.

The man, whose name was withheld, was wearing earphones and talking on his cellphone as the southbound train approached, lowering the gate at the rail crossing and activating warning lights and bells, a witness and police said.

The man was thrown 20 to 30 feet across West Steele Lane and his bicycle was lodged under the train’s right front wheel.

A furniture delivery truck driver avoided serious injury on June 7 when he plowed through the lowered crossing arms at Todd Road. His box truck was smashed by a SMART train going 77 mph in a 79-mph zone, SMART police said.

The driver, Detlev Ihlenfeld, 68, was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, the CHP said.

The truck was traveling west about 25 to 30 mph, the CHP said, and surveillance video captured the moment it crashed through the crossing arms, with the oncoming train barely missing the truck’s cab.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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