Good Samaritans recount Berkeley train amputation

A man lost his leg in a train accident Monday at Gilman Street in Berkeley. Image: Google Maps

A man lost his leg in a train accident Monday at Gilman Street in Berkeley. Image: Google Maps

Authorities say two good Samaritans who sprung into action after a train accident took a man’s lower leg Monday morning may well have saved his life.

The accident happened at about 10:40 a.m. Sean Stallmeyer, 29, of Richmond said he and his girlfriend were driving toward Target when they stopped for the southbound Union Pacific train to pass. As the gates came down to halt traffic, Stallmeyer said he saw a man with a shopping cart standing between the north- and southbound tracks.

“I told my girl, ‘This guy is going to get hit,'” he said Friday morning. The man appeared to be trying to get across the tracks, and seemed to have cleared them. But he didn’t make it far enough. “The arms came down. I think he just froze. The force of the train just knocked him over. He tumbled down. He must have just fallen underneath the train.”

Stallmeyer said it appeared that the wind from the train, which barreled through at what seemed like 80 mph, seemed to suck the man back into the train’s path.

Stallmeyer and his girlfriend, Shelley Jones, were about five cars back when the accident happened. They ran up to the man. Several people were already in the area, but no one was getting close to the victim.

Stallmeyer, a climber who said he has dealt with several hairy situations before but has no medical training other than some first aid courses “a while back,” said it was immediately clear that the man’s main injury was the amputation.

Nearby, Zandra Guiten-Bellard was already on the phone to 911 dispatchers. She said she had been in her car, heading home after going out for breakfast, when she witnessed the accident; she was the second car in line at the intersection. She said she, too, had seen the man on the tracks with his cart before he was hit. The force of the collision spun him around. He rolled over several times then came to a stop.

“And then there was his leg off. I didn’t even stop the motor on my car,” she said. She called 911 as she ran over to the victim.  She told dispatchers: “‘A man was just hit on the train tracks on Gilman. He’s still alive. He’s breathing. His leg is gone. Come quick.'”

Guiten-Bellard remembers Stallmeyer saying, “I need a belt.”

“I said, ‘Here, take my belt,'” she said. “He ran in and tied off the man’s leg.”

Stallmeyer said the man had been losing a lot of blood from the injury, so he used common sense and applied the tourniquet. He had to keep the belt tightened manually, as there were no holes on the strap far enough along the belt to fasten it. Jones, Stallmeyer’s girlfriend, got a blanket from the car to cover the man’s leg.

Within several minutes, police arrived and tossed Stallmeyer a pair of gloves, then walked away. Jones held the man’s hand and talked to him while they waited. The man, who appeared to be homeless and in his 50s, was breathing but barely conscious.

“My girlfriend remembers seeing him look into her eyes. She thought, for a second, that he was going to die. He was squeezing the heck out of her hand. She was trying to reassure him,” said Stallmeyer.

He said it probably only took three or four minutes for authorities to arrive, but that it felt like much longer. He recalls seeing the train conductors walking toward the scene after stopping the train about a quarter-mile down the tracks in Berkeley.

“They were walking, not running,” he said. “We were sitting on the tracks. It just seemed like it took forever.”

Guiten-Bellard said she recalls seeing other people going on as if it was “business as usual.” A big rig drove over the tracks. And “all the cars were driving on by.” It seemed like “nobody was doing anything,” she said.

Paramedics got to the scene a short time later and took over.

Acting Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said paramedics credit Stallmeyer’s actions with saving the man’s life, due to the volume of blood loss the patient suffered. Authorities took the man to the hospital for surgery. Webb said Tuesday that an update on his condition was not available.

But Stallmeyer said he and Jones went to visit the man in the hospital Thursday after tracking him down. He said the man was alive and expected to survive but had been heavily sedated and seemed to be on a breathing machine.

“One of the nurses said he gave a ‘thumbs up’ to one of their conversations about the Obama health care plan, so his brain’s still working,” said Stallmeyer. “It’s good to know he’s alive.”

Stallmeyer said there was a moment, before applying the tourniquet, that he worried about possible exposure to diseases given the amount of blood the man was losing. But his hesitation didn’t last long.

“It crossed my mind for a second,” he said. “It quickly passed when I saw that this man just needed help. And nobody else was going to get down there and tie off this guy’s leg. Nobody wanted to deal with the blood. I made an assessment that, if I didn’t do anything, this guy was going to die.”

Guiten-Bellard said she was spurred into action, in part, due to her own experience after being hit by car a month prior.

“Nobody came to me. No person came,” she said. “That wasn’t a good feeling, for nobody to come and help you. When I saw him hurt like that, I went out of my car as fast as I could.”

She continued: “If we all stood around and panicked and waited, it would have been very bad.”

Calli Hite, an Omaha-based spokeswoman for Union Pacific, said Tuesday she couldn’t provide much detail about the incident due to the on-going investigation. She said there had been a report of a trespasser on Union Pacific property, and that the individual had been taken to the hospital after a “train-related injury.” She said there were several witnesses to the incident, and that the investigation remains active.

According to the Union Pacific website, the company reduced crossing accident rates by 15 percent from 2002 to 2012.

Stallmeyer said he and Jones are trying to set up a charity fund to help with the man’s rehabilitation expenses after he is released from the hospital. Berkeleyside will post the fund information below if they are successful.

“His medical bills will be covered but, if this guy’s homeless, he won’t get physical rehabilitation or counseling or mental health counseling,” said Stallmeyer. “He’s going to need aftercare.”

Good Samaritans set up fund for Berkeley train victim (10.22.13)
Man loses leg in train accident at Gilman St. in Berkeley (10.08.13)

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  • A Reader

    Thank you so, so much to the people who stopped to help… You are the people who turn Berkeley from a place into a community.

  • Tizzielish

    Is it possible for Berkeleyside to learn whether trains routinely blast through intersections that include pedestrians at 80 mph, and find out what speed the train was going. Also, when the train warning lights and sound begin, how far from the intersection is the train?

    Seems to me someone in the middle of the tracks, walking where people are allowed to walk, should have enough time to walk to the other side, once the warning sounds/lights that a train is coming begins.

    I hope this guy gets a good personal injury lawyer. Sounds like he had a right to be walking where he was, that he did not have enough time to avoid the train and of course the UP spokesperson is going to blame the victim: warning, litigation coming.

    And is it true that Medicaid in CA does not cover rehab? The story says his med bills will be covered. so what does CA do after a guy loses his leg, is stabilized in hospital with bills paid? Do we just roll him outside, dump him out of the hospital wheelchair and say ‘good luck’?

    I know that is what the House of Reps would do. But does CA really offer no help to a poor, homeless human who lost a leg once he leaves the hospital?

  • berkopinionator

    Some cars now have crash avoidance technology. Trains could add it too! Trains should also have a bright red light that shines a bullseye onto the rails and all objects within 500 feet of the front of the train. This would let people know they better move quick or be run over.

  • TN

    Trains take a very long distance to stop. A train running at 50 mph can take a mile and a half to stop.

    Even San Franciso Muni light rail cars can not stop any where as quickly as a transit bus. And busses can’t stop anywhere as quickly as a car.

  • tenjen

    “police arrived and tossed Stallmeyer a pair of gloves, then walked away.” SERIOUSLY?

  • Berkeley Citizen

    I recall learning several years ago that trains are required to sound their horns at 1/4 mile before every level crossing — which explains why it seems the horn-sounding is just about nonstop through Berkeley. Of course, people don’t have the right to be on the tracks when the arm starts coming down, and they’d better be able to get off very quickly if they’re already on them. The only way it makes sense to call in a PI lawyer would seem to be if Union Pacific acted negligently or otherwise caused the awful injury, such as by failing to sound the horn at the proper time and for the proper duration. I wonder if this poor man simply didn’t hear the horn or for what other reason he might have been on the track at that point. Stallmeyer and Guiten-Bellard did a wonderful, very difficult thing in saving his life.

  • Berkeley Citizen

    The crash-avoidance systems currently used by railway operators include having locomotives with very bright headlights on sound the horn starting at about 1/4 mile ahead of a level crossing. There’s also loud bell-ringing, flashing lights, and a bar that lowers at the crossing. I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing any good suggestions as to what more they might do to induce people to get or stay off the tracks. Best idea is to not have level crossings, which I believe they’re trying to get done. BTW, I believe trains travel at no more than about 40 mph in build-up areas.

  • Nina

    I am very moved by the people who responded with skill and kindness to the situation and to the person suffering such intense emotional and physical trauma! I am also moved by your concerns for this gentleman’s recovery and rehabilitation. I bow deeply to your generous and caring hearts. Thank you!

  • Berkeley citizen

    Thank you for your compassion, Stallmeyer and Jones. The world needs more people like you. Bless you both.

  • Pwll

    I’m very touched by the compassion and caring these folks showed. Thank you! And I hope the story provides momentum for all of us to “catch” the compassion. Hope it goes “viral”!

  • Annie Painter

    “Within several minutes, police arrived and tossed Stallmeyer a pair of gloves, then walked away.”

    Would someone from Berkeleyside kindly clarify with BPD whether this is normal practice? I realize the coverage of this incident suggests the man was homeless, and the comment about BPD’s actions is from an eye-witness and not, umm, a BPD spokesperson, but is this normal practice? Interesting that there has been no comment from BPD. We arrived in the area shortly after the incident and saw many, many BPD personnel on the scene at all nearby intersections.

  • Johnd15

    Lights are set based on the time to exist and other factors.

    Generally lights flash for a minimum of 20 seconds prior to train arrival except certain situations which do not apply here (low speed / industrial / switching). If the lights start sounding, EXIT THE TRACKS IMMEDIATELY. If you can’t get your luggage etc across, leave it. Required speed to exit is generally between 0.5MPH and 1MPH? That 3-6 times slower than a walk.

    While you are focused on this single incident, the rules are written to protect the most folks possible. Extended alert times have been shown to increase crossing incidents, there is a real focus on keeping false alerts, excessive alerts or long alerts down to keep respect for alerts high. In fact, the current concern is that because the 20 second alert time is based on the fastest trains, that slow train may result in alerts that are ignored because they get too long. High speed rail in particular is going to force some changes so that the alert time doesn’t get too high for slow local traffic.

    Of course, all this goes against your desire to increase the alert time.

    As you know, many people who have tried to help folks who are injured have been sued by personal injury lawyers, and I would hate these two good samaritan to be sued. Even though they often have a strong defense in good samaritan shield rules, California can really put people through the wringer on this. In particular, even if there actions only caused or increased his injuries by 1% if found liable and no other payee is available you can get stuck with full medical costs / full tort costs.

    Thankfully, there is a fair bit of federal preemption in this area. If the signals were installed with some federal funding (most are). If the train was traveling on tracks with regulated speeds (most do). So California’s tort laws may not apply.

    Once trains added cameras in the cabs the number of successful lawsuits against UP and others has really dropped dramatically. It turned out that a lot of personal injury claims were meritless (ie, the claimed negligence through failure of bells, lights or gate arms were entirely false). More generally, it was a failure to OBSERVE the warning signs and take appropriate action that caused the accident, resulting in significant costs to the victim, society and railroad.

    Very sad to hear this case (and there are actually some real issues regarding deaf folks and crossing designs given light configurations). That said, I hope the previous commentator is not charged with re-writing the regulations governing crossing signals.

  • Horseswaggled

    The man froze for 25 seconds? The time needed for a 4 track crossing to clear if someone is just entering on foot or big rig. GATE FAILURE

  • jbl

    2 lies in this post..