BERKELEY -- Sean Stallmeyer was idling in his car at a railroad crossing when he saw Mark Schwartz pushing his shopping cart on the tracks that Monday morning nearly three weeks ago.
Then he saw the crossing gates come down and heard the Amtrak train's horn blow.
"I knew it was going to happen before he even got hit," said Stallmeyer, a 29-year-old cook who lives in Richmond and was with his girlfriend, Shelley Jones, at the Gilman Street crossing shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 7. "Then the train passed him and just sucked him underneath."
What happened next may have saved Schwartz's life -- and formed an unlikely friendship between the homeless man and the couple, who have set up a fund to help with medical expenses.
Schwartz, 59, had part of his left leg severed in the train collision and has other injuries as well, a friend said. No one else was hurt.
"I definitely had hesitation going up on the train tracks cause I was expecting to see a person in pieces," Stallmeyer said. "I don't know if anybody would have been willing to (help). I think people were just scared that he was dead already."
Stallmeyer, a mountain climber who has wilderness first-aid training and said he has helped out car accidents victims in the past, wrapped Schwartz leg with a belt to try to control the bleeding, while Jones, 27, tried to talk to him.
"He was just gushing blood at that point," Jones said. "He was, for the most part, conscious, but he was in and out. I sat next to his head and talked to him and tried to keep him awake.
"He was laying there ghost white, and, I'm sure, shocked and terrified."
Once the ambulance arrived and took Schwartz to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where he remains in the intensive care unit, the couple got to work trying to raise money for what will likely be a long road to recovery.
"We wanted to do whatever we could to help this man," said Jones. "We just wanted to make sure he was taken care of and is able to transition back to his life."
Paul Matzner, 67, has been a friend to Schwartz for the past three years, including when Schwartz was a write-in candidate for Berkeley mayor last year. He got 11 votes, according to League of Women Voters data. According to information published around election time last year, Schwartz has penned 13 books of poetry and holds an engineering degree from Cornell University.
Jones called two other nonprofits before she hooked up with Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, an organization which provides services to homeless people. Officials at BOSS offered to help set up a fund.
"Of course, it's not going to be enough for life-altering assistance," said BOSS development director Sonja Fitz. "We're just hoping to have a little pool he can turn to as his recovery progresses since MediCal doesn't cover everything."
Established in 1971 in response to the closure of mental health hospitals which put many mentally ill men and women onto the streets, the organization serves more than 1,500 homeless families and individuals with a network of housing and service programs in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward.
"BOSS was the (organization) that stood out to me and was the most helpful and were amazed by the story," said Jones. "What they offered to do is what they do -- get homeless people back on track."
The couple has been to Highland Hospital twice to visit Schwartz and plan to keep in touch.
"We plan on it if he lets us," said Jones. "From what (his friend) has said about him, I think he will welcome us into his life. We'd like to keep in contact with him and see how he does.
"I don't think we've ever had the opportunity to do something like this before, but we just felt like it was the right thing to do."
All funds sent to BOSS will help pay for Schwartz's health care and other recovery costs. To donate, send to BOSS, Attn: Mark's Fund, 2065 Kittredge St., Ste. E, Berkeley, CA, 94704 or donate online at www.self-sufficiency.org.