Man facing sexual abuse charges killed by SMART train north of Rohnert Park

A Rohnert Park man charged in May with sexually and physically abusing disabled children and adults at his in-home care operation was struck and killed by a SMART train Tuesday night.

Authorities think Keith Marcum, 68, took his own life, making him the third fatality on the passenger rail line in less than two weeks. Video from the train showed Marcum lying on the tracks moments before it approached him at about 9:30 p.m., Sonoma County Sheriff’s officials said in a statement Wednesday.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train was traveling north when the conductor spotted the man on the tracks roughly 15 yards south of the Scenic Avenue crossing north of Rohnert Park, said Jennifer McGill, SMART chief of police. The conductor pulled the emergency brake, sounded the train horn and flashed lights before hitting Marcum, she said. Trains in that area run at speeds of up to 79 mph.

“From our perspective at this time, the man was intentionally trying to get hit,” McGill said. “This is another case of someone having a clear intention of taking their own life.”

Gabby Trejo, a Scenic Avenue resident close to the SMART tracks, said the quiet rural neighborhood was disrupted Tuesday night by a blaring train horn.

“We thought that was strange. It usually doesn’t make any noise,” Trejo said of the train. “We just let it go, and then after a little while we saw a bunch of flashlights on the side because it was super dark. Then we saw a body that was covered. It was crazy.”

For 30 years, Marcum operated an in-home care facility for mentally and physically disabled adults and children at his Brenda Way home. Two months ago, he was arrested by Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety officers after three people accused him of sexual and physical abuse spanning several years.

Rohnert Park police started an investigation in April after the first victim, a former patient at the home, came forward accusing Marcum of repeated sexual and physical abuse that began about 10 years ago. Two more people reported similar allegations to police following Marcum’s arrest.

Sonoma County prosecutors filed 14 felony charges against Marcum in May based on witness interviews, police said. Court records show they included counts of sodomy, forced lewd acts on a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child and possessing child pornography.

Marcum was released from the county jail after posting $765,000 bail. Three patients living in Marcum’s house were removed at the time of his arrest, after police searched his home and uncovered 600 images of child pornography, Astley said.

The case against Marcum will be suspended, said Aaron Johnson, deputy chief at the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety. However, he said, any additional victims that come forward will be connected to necessary services.

“There are two sides of it. You want the justice for the victims but you also want to make sure that they now get the services and support they need,” Johnson said. “It is hard because this individual (Marcum) isn’t going to go through the judicial process.”

Marcum’s Santa Rosa attorney Jane Gaskell did not return calls Wednesday for comment.

During the investigation, police determined Marcum’s certifications as a clinical psychologist were fraudulent, said Sgt. Keith Astley, lead officer on the case. Investigators also reached more witnesses that gave police additional accounts detailing the abuse that occurred in Marcum’s home, he said.

He claimed to have earned multiple degrees from the University of Colorado that included doctorates in clinical psychology and neurophysiology, and master’s degrees in educational psychology and cognitive psychology, Astley said.

“We never found any documentation supporting those degrees Marcum claimed to have obtained,” the sergeant said.

In 1981, Marcum was arrested for alleged sexual assault on a child in Longmont, Colorado. He received a deferred sentence of four years, according to court records.

Hours before his death, Marcum posted a farewell message on his Facebook page that drew concerned comments.

“Farewell everyone - it’s been a wonderful life,” Marcum’s post said about 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Marcum’s death marked the fourth apparent suicide on the SMART line since the public transit system began operating nearly two years ago. Overall, he’s the seventh person to be killed by a train.

Two weeks ago on consecutive days, a pedestrian and cyclist were hit and killed by SMART trains at the same Rohnert Park crossing at Golf Course Drive near Commerce Boulevard. On June 27, a 30-year-old woman who walked under the street gate crossing arm was struck as she tried to beat the coming train. The next morning, a 66-year-old man riding a bicycle while wearing headphones was struck. Investigators think both incidents were accidental, and official rulings are expected later this week.

Commuter rail agency officials are considering additional safety enhancements along the 43-mile rail line, from San Rafael north to the station near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. Agency officials continue to wrestle with how to try and prevent people from taking their own lives on the train tracks.

“No amount of public education, safety enforcement, trespassing signs or suicide prevention efforts can stop someone from doing this,” McGill said.

Signs with information about suicide prevention and trespassing are posted along the SMART line, with at least four signs in the area where Marcum died on the tracks, McGill said.

This week SMART began installing sidewalk fencing dubbed a Z gate at 30 of its 62 road-level train crossings. The safety enhancement is intended to slow distracted pedestrians and bicyclists and hopefully prevent them from inadvertently walking or riding onto the tracks as trains pass. The deadly Rohnert Park crossing was moved to the top of the list for a Z gate after the two deaths on back-to-back mornings in late June.

Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, said Wednesday the repeat fatalities cause great sadness to everyone involved and each one “shakes the entire SMART organization” no matter the circumstances.

Despite the three recent deaths involving trains, he said the rail system is safe. No amount of safety improvements will prevent suicides.

“This is a county, state and national issue,” Mansourian said. “We need to do a better job with mental health issues - all of us - and figure out how to intervene. It’s a work in progress, and we need to be hand in hand.

“We’ve got to get the message out,” he said. “None of these traffic signals, traffic measures, none of these barriers we’re building mean anything if people choose to go violate it. We need to get to them, so they don’t violate it. That’s why we need everybody’s help.”

There have been ongoing discussions about rail safety and suicide between SMART leaders and the health and human services departments in Sonoma and Marin counties, McGill said.

Rail union leaders are hoping to have their safety concerns addressed during a planned Monday meeting with McGill and other SMART leaders, said Felix Huerta, union representative for Operating Engineers Local Union 3, which represents local employees in contract negotiations with SMART. Huerta’s union includes 28 SMART employees, including the engineers and conductors.

The desire for additional code compliance officers to monitor the rail line is still on the table, he said, and SMART officials have yet to respond to that union request. The recent surge in deaths has a lot of engineers distressed, Huerta said, hoping to also address this issue next week with SMART’s managers.

When an employee is involved in an accident that results in a death, McGill said he or she goes through a mental health evaluation, mandatory counseling and doesn’t return to work until medically cleared.

Huerta said he is concerned about the physical and mental health of SMART’s union employees.

“Three strikes in 12 days is a high number and is mathematically outrageous,” he said. “We have engineers who are really stressed out by what is happening so we are hoping to get a serious response from McGill soon.”

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