Solo accident destroys SMART tower

On April 23 at around 3 p.m., Rohnert Park resident Damien Pheng was rushed to the hospital after crashing into a railroad crossing tower while driving east on Rohnert Park Expressway. 

According to officials, Pheng’s SUV began drifting to the right and struck the railroad apparatus without braking. 

The SMART tower was completely destroyed and required hours of work to replace, delaying afternoon traffic for up to two hours.

The SMART tower was completely destroyed and required hours of work to replace, delaying afternoon traffic for up to two hours.

“Witnesses stated the vehicle appeared to be traveling at a ‘higher than average’ speed prior to leaving the roadway,” said Rohnert Park Police Chief Tim Mattos. 

People on the scene said that they did not see any brake lights go off before the crash occurred. 

No other people were in the car or were injured in the crash. Pheng was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he is still recovering.

“Initial information from the driver indicates that he fell asleep at the wheel causing him to veer off the roadway,” said Mattos. 

The intersection the crash occurred at was closed for two hours, heavily impacting after-work traffic in the oft-commuted residential community. This was due to the driver knocking down the tower, the crossing arm, and the flashing lights that notify drivers at intersections. 

At this point, officials are unsure whether this crash occurred from drugs or alcohol. 

“We do know that many of the collisions occurring in the city result from distracted driving,” said Mattos. “We will continue to dig for the cause of this collision, and encourage drivers to stay off their phones and avoid distractions when driving.”

There are many different dangerous crashes which have occurred on Rohnert Park Expressway over the years, including one fatal crash involving a Sonoma State student that occurred in October 2018. 

Mo’Tasem Haddad, 24, was traveling east on the expressway when his car was split in half after running a red light and crashing into a light pole at the intersection of Country Club Drive during early morning hours. Witnesses said he swerved to avoid another car. 

In addition to this, since the build of the new SMART rail, there have been multiple accidents which have occurred.

In June of 2018, a man barreled though crossing arms into the path of an approaching SMART train. None in the crash were killed, but the driver was injured and the passengers were greatly stunned. 

In November of 2018, a man walking was killed by a southbound train during early morning hours because he failed to hear the engineer’s emergency horn. It is suspected that he may have had headphones in, affecting his hearing at the scene. 

SMART, although unfinished, is currently in its second year of operation, having been opened to the public in August of 2017. Several accidents involving the rail, with a current total of three fatal accidents -- all of them individual -- have occurred.