Janae Bell was standing with his two friends when they were struck and killed by a train. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Janae Bell was standing on the Union Pacific railroad tracks around 8:10 p.m. Thursday talking with two friends, Jupiter and Fixie. A freight train was rushing past on one of the tracks, and the trio was waiting for it to pass before crossing at Hearst Avenue near Fourth Street in West Berkeley. They were eating some pastries from Peet’s Coffee.

All of a sudden, Bell looked up and noticed another train hurtling toward him and his friends. He didn’t have time to think. He jumped back and ran off the tracks, bringing his bicycle with him.

Within seconds, Bell turned around. His two friends were gone, run over by the Amtrak train.

“I looked up and saw the lights on the other train,” Bell said Friday, becoming visibly distraught at times while talking to a reporter. “I said, ‘Shit, train,’ and I took off running. When I looked around they were gone.”

The Alameda County coroner’s office on Monday released the name of the two men: Jason Clary, 37, with no fixed address and Jupiter Marley, 31, with no fixed address.

The men were killed Thursday night when they were struck by Train 717 on its way from Bakersfield to Oakland, according to Christina Leeds, a spokeswoman for Amtrak. (Amtrak had identified the train number as 550, which goes from San Jose to Auburn,  on its Twitter page Thursday night. Berkeleyside will seek clarification from Amtrak.)

Jupiter Marley, also known as “Jupiter of the Universe,” was 31, according to public records. Fixie was around 37, said Bell, who is 41. Both of the men who were killed had housed family in Berkeley, he said. They also both had girlfriends who lived on the street. Jupiter had a young daughter around 2.5 years old, said Bell.

After the train hit his friends, Bell was stunned. He wasn’t sure what to do so he returned to an area near Hearst and Second Street known as “the alley.” He had to break the news to his friends’ girlfriends.

“I couldn’t believe what had just happened,” said Bell. “It didn’t seem real to me.”

Some homeless advocates are wondering if recent actions by Caltrans might have upset the men’s equilibrium and in some way contributed to their deaths. Caltrans had just dismantled two nearby homeless encampments along University Avenue where the men were living, one Wednesday and one Thursday. The temperature reached into the high 80s on Thursday, leading Barbara Brust, a homeless advocate, to wonder if the two men killed had been dehydrated, tired and stressed, which led them to make bad judgments.

“Where do we go? Answer us!” #berkmtg #WhereDoWeGo
Berkeley homeless persecution by CalTrans, BPD.— JP Massar (@jpmassar) September 13, 2019

Posting on Twitter, JP Massar shared a photograph of Andrea Henson on Thursday as she sat outside Berkeley city offices with signs about the men who died as part of the recently launched “Where do we go?” campaign supporting those experiencing homelessness. The sign included a reference to the hot weather.

But Bell said Jupiter and Fixie seemed good to him in the minutes before their deaths. Jupiter was drinking coffee and had those pastries; Fixie was riding his bike. Neither man was intoxicated, said Bell.

The two men had been living on the streets for at least three or so years, said Bell, who came from Las Vegas a few years ago after he had been shot five times by someone he didn’t know. Both of the men who were killed had been admired, he said.

“Fixie was amazing with bikes; he could fix anything,” said a woman who called herself J. That’s why he had the nickname “Fixie.”

“Jupiter was funny as hell, always goofing around, always smiling,” said J.

Bell said Fixie was “a true Irish dude,” a kind-hearted person who was a whiz on bikes. He was extremely generous, too. But like many living on the streets, something had happened to interrupt his life and hand him hard times, he said.

Jupiter was “the greatest,” said Bell. “He had so much love.”

Bell said the three men had climbed under the train crossing guards, which were down, although the alarms were no longer ringing. The freight train that was rushing by came every night at the same time and took 6-10 minutes to barrel through Berkeley. There isn’t usually another train there at the same time, said Bell.

They didn’t hear the train that struck Jupiter and Fixie, possibly because they were so used to the noise.

“It’s like white noise to us,” he said. “You hear the train all the time so your sensories don’t go off.”

Bell keeps replaying the scene in his head, over and over.

“I was the furthest away from the train,” he said. “I wonder, did they just freeze? Did they run into each other trying to run away? I don’t know. I wish it could all start over again and all of them could move with me.”

Update: Friends of Jason Clary mourned his death on Facebook. Clary was a former employee of the State Bicycle Co. and was a champion bicyclist.

The company put together a video five years ago of Clary riding through San Francisco. A friend made a tribute video of Clary riding his bike.

Marley’s friends are also posting about him on Facebook.

Here is a video that Marley posted to his Facebook page a number of months ago.

Update 9/16: The article was updated to include the full names of the two men killed.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...