Family: Caltrain victim lost battle against mental illness | March 16, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 16, 2012

Family: Caltrain victim lost battle against mental illness

PayPal executive Eric Salvatierra, 39, of Palo Alto was killed March 9 on train tracks in Menlo Park

by Gennady Sheyner

The man struck by a train in Menlo Park Friday morning, March 9, was Eric Salvatierra, a 39-year-old Palo Alto resident, according to the San Mateo County Coroner's Office.

A married father of three daughters, Salvatierra had worked at PayPal as vice president for customer advocacy and operational excellence. He had also previously served as vice president and CFO at Skype, which was previously owned by eBay Inc.

Salvatierra had spent 14 years at the three companies and had served as the first vice president for site management and fraud prevention at eBay, which owns PayPal, according to eBay CEO John Donahoe.

Salvatierra had lived in Palo Alto with his wife, Meredith Ackley, and their daughters, aged 3, 8 and 10. His family released a statement Monday, March 12, characterizing his death as a lost battle against a mental illness. Salvatierra was diagnosed last summer with bipolar II disorder and depression, according to the statement.

Salvatierra and Ackley had been working with health care professionals for the past eight months to deal with his mental illnesses, the family said.

"In the end, he lost his fight with this debilitating disease," the family wrote in the statement.

The Salvatierra-Ackley family noted in the statement that it decided to be forthcoming about Salvatierra's illness "to support others who are suffering, and also to help abolish the stigma associated with mental illness."

Salvatierra was described by Donahoe in the email as "one of our longest serving and most loyal employees." Salvatierra and Ackley had moved from New York City to California in 1998 so that he could attend Stanford Graduate School of Business. He deferred his admission to join eBay, according to the family.

Donahoe praised Salvatierra in the email for having performed every role he held at eBay "with skill and unmatched dedication." One of Salvatierra's many gifts included an "ability to bring out the best in all of us and compel his colleagues to be better employees and better people," Donahoe wrote.

"Eric was one of those unique and special colleagues who was loved and admired by all," he wrote.

In his free time, Salvatierra enjoyed snowboarding, karaoke and deejaying, according to Donahoe.

"For all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with Eric, we will remember and miss his wit, intelligence, and joy of life both professionally and personally," Donahoe wrote. "Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with Meredith and the girls."

The Friday collision occurred at about 9:30 a.m. at the tracks near Ravenswood Avenue, according to Caltrain. Salvatierra was reportedly on the tracks when a northbound train struck him. People at the scene commented that he had been seen with a silver road bike and helmet.

This was the fourth death on the Caltrain right-of-way this year, according to Caltrain. There were 16 fatalities in 2011.

Agency spokeswoman Christine Dunn said the incident remains under investigation.

In his email, Donahoe wrote that Salvatierra's "debilitating mental illness" had prompted him to take a leave of absence last year.

The email also noted that in recent months Salvatierra and Ackley found support through the resources of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nonprofit that provides education on mental-health issues, and that the family is now receiving support from Kara, a Palo Alto-based organization that counsels people during times of grief. Donahoe said the company would make contributions to both organizations in Salvatierra's memory.

The Salvatierra-Ackley family has asked that donations be given in Eric Salvatierra's name to NAMI ( or Kara (

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by bicyclist?, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Was he riding his bike when he was hit by the train? Other news reports said he was a pedestrian and a bicycle was parked a good distance away.

Posted by John D, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by registered user, chelle, a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

To answer the first comment, no, he was not riding his bike when he was struck. His bike was parked on the patio of Axis, at the corner of Ravenswood and Alma. He was sitting there for a while before this happened.

Posted by registered user, FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

We need grade separation - suicide or accident doesn't matter a grade separated system will help prevent both.

Posted by registered user, Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I knew Eric & his family. I didn't know them well, but I really enjoyed them all. They were a smart, vital, fun, very caring couple who were very thoughtful w/how they raised their kids. They had deep connections w/various philanthropic organizations as well. Iirc, they lived in Menlo before moving to Palo Alto.

My hear goes out to his family, friens and colleagues at this time. This is such disturbing, tragic news. Eric will be mised beyond words and the community in which I met him is in mourning as well.

Posted by registered user, RICHTERDAMAN, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

What a courageous thing for this family to do - to come out and shed light on this horrible illness. I can only imagine the grief and pain they are going through. What a wonderful family, and to be so strong during this tragedy. Our community should come together and put our collective arms around them. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

Posted by registered user, pelican , a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm

My condolences goes out to his family and friends.
Personally I know of many people who are suffering from mental illnesses. Their age may range from four to eighty-four. The many forms of stress may cause anyone to suffer. There is a panel call Rising above stigma . They want people to learn about mental illnesses.
The organization is a local non-profit organization call MOMENTUM.
It also provides services for people who needs help.
A last piece of advice, if you feel someone is thinking of harming himself, please take the person immediately to the emergency.
Look for help PLEASE !!!

Posted by registered user, anon12345, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by registered user, PowerMax, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

That is so sad. I have heard just how difficult it is to cure/cope with the disease. I know a guy I went to school with who killed himself on the way to treatment. Its just so scary how even the best efforts sometimes fail.
Hopefully soon they'll develop even better strategies to deal with this.

In the meantime, I'm praying his family finds peace and strength to keep going.

Posted by registered user, Stephen Cook, a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

The fact that he had a great family and a great job should tell anyone how overwhelming this illness is. If he had been in counseling for 8 months, that means he was being treated medically as well. It's tricky business because sometimes the medications used to combat this disease can actually have the opposite effect over time. You have to be very pro-active in your treatment plan, and sadly, sometimes even that is not enough. How totally sad for his family. There are no words.

Posted by registered user, iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

If they are disclosing his illness to help others, can someone explain the illness? How can he have been so successful, witty, well-liked, and a great father if he was mentally ill? Aren't bi-polars prone to angry outbursts and mood swings? I know of bi-polars but they are not as successful as he was - how did he cope for so long?

Posted by registered user, bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2012 at 2:25 am

I'm very sorry to hear of this occurrence, and give my sincere condolences to the family and friends.

I did not know the person here, but he sounds from the comments like a distinguished and very nice person.

I cannot help but wonder if, and I mean no levity or disrespect, if it was he that was sick or the culture of Silicon Valley. Having worked in Silicon Valley, and lived in the Bay Area for decades I can barely express how much this area has changed and how in a country that is questioning greed and trying to bring back civic-mindedness how toxic this area has become. You can see it in almost any aspect the lifestyle around her, in the suicide rate and the hushed up mental illness.

As numerous as Steve Jobs accomplishments were after reading about him and going through his book I cannot shake the idea that he was empty inside, living to get riled up over his obsession and expertise, control to the extent that he had to write a book so his children would know him, and he did not choose to get treatment for his illness. Jobs sounded like a high-functioning person with some kind of mental illness to me that was very powerful, interesting, and even seductive, but not very warm or human or really happy.

With such high level work this guy should have had the time and resources to detach from what can be the madhouse of Silicon Valley and reconnect with his real life.

Sorry if this off base, but it is my belief that our business culture, particularly in Silicon Valley that contributes to a lot of the countries ills, and individual alienation and isolation - even deliberately so. With the studies lately that show this is not something that can be solved with a pill or platitudes, we should consider that our inner humanity is as important to the individual as nature and animals are to the planet.

Posted by registered user, Kemery, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

My deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Eric, in this time of loss.

Suicide is not specific to Silicon Valley. You can find more information at AFSA dot org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), or NAMI dot org (National Alliance for Mental Illness). There is still not enough information about depression and its various types - but it is can be insidious. Many people struggle with it in secret for fear of repercussions at work or in social situations, because they feel shame about it. It is an invisible illness that is hard for many to understand.