Motorcyclist killed in collision with SMART train in Santa Rosa

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A motorcyclist was killed in a collision with a southbound SMART train Wednesday afternoon at the Guerneville Road crossing in Santa Rosa after he drove into the opposite lane of traffic onto the tracks and struck one of the rear cars of the train, authorities said.

The collision was reported about 3:55 p.m. at the crossing just feet from the Santa Rosa North SMART station where the train was scheduled to stop. Fifteen passengers were on board, according to SMART. No injuries were reported, said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Summer Gloeckner.

Investigators found the motorcyclist, whose name was withheld by officials Wednesday, was driving east on Guerneville Road when he saw backed up traffic at the rail crossing, Gloeckner said. Instead of stopping, the man weaved into the westbound lane and drove onto the tracks as the train was passing through the intersection, police said.

“We’re not sure what speed, but he was traveling at a high rate of speed,” Gloeckner said of the motorcyclist. The collision caused both the motorcycle and the undercarriage of the train to catch fire, Gloeckner said.

David Bailey, who was on the platform at the nearby Santa Rosa North station waiting for the train, said he saw “a huge fireball” burst up from the train after the collision.

“I felt the hit inside the train,” said passenger William Gilmore. “That fireball — we could feel the heat from inside.”

It was too early to determine why the motorcyclist entered the wrong lane of traffic to pass through the crossing, Gloeckner said. She added that it did not appear that the conductor knew immediately about the collision.

Passengers on the train and bystanders tried to pull the man off the burning motorcycle and some brought buckets of water to douse the blaze. Train personnel also brought out fire extinguishers to help. Gilmore said he took off his leather jacket to try and extinguish the flames, which had engulfed the motorcyclist’s legs.

“Everybody was doing their part, hoping something better would happen,” Bailey said. “Everybody came to try and help in a bad situation.”

The burning motorcycle exploded moments after the rider was pulled clear of the wreckage, Gilmore said. Firefighters arrived soon after and quickly put out the fire. The motorcyclist was pronounced dead at the scene, Gloeckner said.

Traffic was blocked in both directions on Guerneville Road from Coffey Lane to North Dutton Avenue for officials to investigate the crash.

The train came to a halt in front of the passenger platform and the charred motorcycle sat on its side several feet away, near the pedestrian path across the railroad tracks.

The crash dented the train body, and SMART officials were still trying to determine what other damage, if any, the collision may have caused, said Jennifer McGill, SMART’s public safety chief. The intersection’s safety equipment — the crossing arms and bells — was working at the time of the crash, she said.

“The train conductor couldn’t have stopped (the crash),” said Maaz Sheikh, who had been waiting for the train on the platform at the time of the collision and helped pull the rider off the burning motorcycle.

Elizabeth Wilcox, a resident at a nearby apartment complex, said a loud boom drew her to the train tracks, where she found the group of people attempting to pull the man from his downed motorcycle and put out the flames.

“It just makes my heart sink every time I hear about these (deaths),” Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a SMART board member, said upon hearing initially of the incident.

Multiple calls and messages to SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian and Matt Stevens, SMART’s spokesman, went unanswered Wednesday.

The motorcyclist’s death marks the seventh fatality involving a SMART train this year, and 11th since the commuter rail agency launched service in August 2017. There have also been two train collisions — both in Santa Rosa — that led to injury, but none at the location near Guerneville Road.

SMART canceled the 7:59 p.m. northbound train because of the collision, but all trains were back on schedule by 8 p.m., SMART said in a Nixle alert. Both directions of traffic on Guerneville Road were reopened by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

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