Pedestrian struck, killed by SMART train north of Rohnert Park
The SMART train saw its third death in less than a week, the fifth death in a month, when a train hit a pedestrian in Rohnert Park on Monday afternoon.
The death is being investigated as a possible suicide, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said in an email.
The collision, reported at 4:10 p.m., happened along Redwood Drive, a quarter-mile north of the rail crossing at Golf Course Drive, which has seen three previous deaths since SMART began operations nearly two years ago.
Those three deaths, two of which happened on consecutive days in late June, have been ruled accidents.
Operating Engineers Local Union 3, which represents local employees and is in contract negotiations with SMART, has been pushing the SMART board for months to hire more safety officers to patrol the tracks, but the transit agency so far has not done so.
As things stand, a single safety officer is responsible for monitoring the system’s 43 miles of tracks. This month, SMART installed a so-called Z gate at the Golf Course Drive crossing, meant to slow pedestrian traffic at the site where the sidewalk crosses the tracks.
The site of Monday’s collision, however, had no barrier to prevent people from trespassing onto the tracks.
There was a gap in the fencing running along the tracks.
A homeless encampment sat empty Monday afternoon near the gap.
Jennifer McGill, SMART chief of police, said she “did not have an update” on whether SMART is planning to hire more safety officers. However, she said the agency is focusing on mental-health and suicide prevention efforts.
“Right now, all options are on the table,” she said. “We’re evaluating industry best practices and how other agencies address suicide and intentional deaths.”
SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian could not be reached late Monday.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who sits on the SMART board, called the deaths a crisis, saying they are devastating for everyone involved.
“I think this sounds the alarm, and I think those private health care partners and the state really need to step up and provide more of these crisis services and interventions,” Zane said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.
Zane, along with supervisors James Gore and Susan Gorin, banded together earlier this year to preserve critical mental health programs that had faced steep budget cuts.
But cuts still came down, including to the county’s crisis stabilization unit.
That program serves patients in acute mental health crisis situations.
David Rabbitt, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and also a SMART board member, said suicide prevention will require help from all sides.
“Our county has this system within our midst that people are using for this purpose, and we need to make sure we react to it,” Rabbitt said in a phone interview. “We won’t be able to necessarily stop it. But we need to improve our situation and improve the mental health of our residents.”
Rabbitt said the media should play a role in reducing these kinds of deaths, pointing to the way suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge are reported in Bay Area news outlets.
John Monaghan, a Rohnert Park resident who was on the train when it hit the pedestrian, said he heard the train whistle blow, followed almost immediately by the collision.
“There was almost no time between the time I heard the horn sound and the impact,” he said. “I’m surmising they took the driver by surprise.”
San Rafael resident Aaron Selverston, also on the train, said SMART employees did not immediately inform passengers of what had happened, and he learned the train he was on had hit a pedestrian from a SMART push alert on his phone about 25 minutes after the train came to a stop.
“One of the engineers said the train had activated the emergency brake system. … They apologized for the inconvenience,” he said. “I finally got a text alert from SMART; that’s how I found out.”
Staff Writer Kevin Fixler contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or email@example.com. On Twitter @iambeale.