‘You Can’t Regulate Stupidity’: Family of a Man Who Died While ‘Surfing’ a San Francisco Train Comes Under Fire for Suing City 

Train surfing, which can be fatal, has become increasingly popular countrywide due to the explosion in viral stunt videos of the activity.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
San Francisco MUNI Metro trains sit parked at the Curtis E. Green Light Rail Center on March 30, 2020, at San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The grieving family of a “sweet and gentle” man, 21, who took a fatal fall off a train while “subway surfing” is suing the city of San Francisco — a move that’s come under criticism from social media users.

It was about 1:20 A.M. on January 12, 2020, when Todd Odnamar tried to board a train at Sunnydale Station at San Francisco. According to a court complaint from his mother, Odnamar failed to enter the out-of-service train after pressing a button and knocking on passenger doors. That’s when a stumbling and inebriated Odnamar climbed over a safety strap and took a seat on the train’s coupler. Video footage suggests he was not holding on to anything.

The tragic accident occurred when the train’s operator, Gene Mabrey, began driving back toward the rail yard and Odnamar lost his balance when the track curved. The injuries he sustained from his fall – “multiple fractures and a hemorrhage on the right side of his head, among other wounds” – were fatal. Toxicology reports later showed he had a potentially lethal blood alcohol concentration of .37, more than four times the legal limit for driving.

“Muni surfing” — hitching a ride on one of San Francisco’s Muni buses, light rail Metro trains, streetcars, or cable cars by holding onto the outside of the vehicle – is not a foreign concept for the Golden Gate City. When videos of people hitching rides on Muni cars went viral after Odnamar’s death, many residents voiced their concerns.

‘Sweet and gentle’ Todd Odnamar lost his life after ‘train surfing.’ GoFundMe

“You can’t regulate stupidity, but I think that just a little common sense imparted on all of us can go a long way,” a representative for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency told KRON4 in February 2020.

Still, this unsafe type of behavior is happening all across the country. It has likely seen a rise in participants given the popularity of stunt videos on social media, and Odnamar’s story is a perfect, yet tragic, example of exactly why these types of practices should be avoided at all costs.

Deputy City Attorney Rebecca Louie says Odnamar’s death was “a really sad situation.” Yet she maintains the city is not liable. 

Odnamar’s mother, on the other hand, disagrees. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she has sued “San Francisco, its Municipal Transportation Agency, and train operator Gene Mabrey for wrongful death and negligence, arguing that the agency failed to teach its employees to look for stowaways.”

“From our perspective, it’s a safety issue that they ignore,” Odnamar’s mother’s attorney, D.L. Rencher, says.

In criticizing the city’s lack of intervention when it comes to unsafe uses of public transportation, Mr. Rencher cited 46 recorded incidents of people riding on the hooks of Muni train cars from February 2015 to February 2021. Some of these events ended with injury, police interference or confrontations with train operators.

The trial is not set to take place until next year, but news of the lawsuit has stirred up quite a response online.

“No, taxpayers are not liable for people’s reckless behavior. Next story,” one Instagram user wrote under the San Francisco’s Chronicle’s article about the story. His comment has received more than 450 likes. 

“Actions have consequences,” another popular commenter wrote. “City can’t be liable for stupidity.”

“I think most of us have made it to this point by being lucky enough to survive a few bad decisions, and it’s really sad that someone has died,” a different user commented. “Maybe instead of wasting taxpayers money on defending against a frivolous lawsuit, the family should ask that this money goes to education to try and prevent future deaths.”

The user added “I’m no expert but it seems like lawyers who can bring these frivolous lawsuits at no cost to themselves and great cost to the rest of us, should be accountable if they don’t prevail. Billboards are covered with lawyers encouraging people to take any bit of bad luck and try to retire on it.”

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This story was updated to reflect the correct attribution for a quote from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.


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