Series of SMART train deaths impact Sonoma County

Bay Area

ROHNERT PARK (KRON) — There has been an alarming number of people killed on the Sonoma-Marin area train tracks in Rohnert Park.

Five train related deaths this summer — four were classified as suicides.

That includes the most recent incident here at Golf Course Drive around 9:25 p.m. on Thursday.

“The crossing arms were down and the lights were illuminated and there was a north bound train approaching,” Deputy chief Aaron Johnson said.

That is when two detectives from the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety witnessed a woman step in front of a moving smart train.

She was holding two small pets under her arms.

“She had two dogs with her and both of the dogs died as well,” Johnson said.

“We’ve had 10 now in just a little over two years,” Shirlee Zane said. “Most of them were in Rohnert Park, which is in my district.”

Zane is one of the SMART board of directors.

She said suicide by train stems from someone suffering from a mental health condition

“I am a former family therapist who has created mental health programs,” Zane said. “I do a lot of work in the field of mental health and I am a suicide survivor. My husband took his life eight years ago. Until we start making an investment in treating mental illness, I am afraid we are going to continue to see suicide numbers be excessively high.”

This latest death happened during National Rail Safety Week.

Zane talked about what SMART officials are doing to keep the public safe. 

“On the mental health side, we formed a collaborative of several organizations and we’re doing public health announcements,” she said. “And on the safety side we are installing, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars of increased of safety mitigation.”

SMART officials say suicide by train not only has an emotional impact on the family and friends of the deceased, but it also impacts the train conductor, passengers, witnesses and first responders.

“These incidents are very traumatic,” Johnson said. “We would like to say that this is the last one.”

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