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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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...