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A campaign to protect property that is home to a popular hiking trail next to South Whidbey State Park took a major step forward Monday, when the Island County Commission dedicated $187,000 to help purchase the land.

That adds to about $190,000 already committed by the state Parks and Recreation Commission to help buy 7.3 acres of land.

The land abuts a section of old-growth forest in the state park, and is crossed by the Wilbert Trail, which leads to some of the largest trees in the forest.

Private donors could still have to come up with as much as $26,000 to complete the purchase, said Patricia Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

“We’re optimistic because it’s a very popular trail,” said Powell, whose group is organizing the purchase. The group can be found at www.wclt.org.


Reichert, Burner to debate tonight

Incumbent Republican Congressman Dave Reichert will face Democratic challenger Darcy Burner in their first debate tonight in Bellevue.

Reichert and Burner are vying for the 8th Congressional District seat. Panelists from The Seattle Times and radio station KUOW-FM will question the candidates.

The debate will be at 7 p.m. in the Meydenbauer Center, 11100 N.E. Sixth St., and is open to the public.


Michigan man dies in fall from train

A Michigan man who had been hopping freight trains with his wife was killed when he fell from a rail car, police said.

Jason P. Litzner, 25, of Macomb, Mich., and his wife of 11 months had climbed aboard the car in Tacoma and were headed for San Francisco. The car was a type nicknamed a “suicide car” because it consists only of a frame for cargo containers.

Also with them was a 20-year-old woman from Fort Lewis. She told police she felt a tap on the shoulder and then saw Litzner fall through onto the rails early Sunday. Litzner’s wife was asleep.

Chehalis police Detective Jeff Elder said the three had consumed half a bottle of wine and also had half a case of beer with them.


Man charged in baby’s death

A man was charged Monday in King County Superior Court with second-degree murder in the death of his 10-month-old niece.

Police say Rene Calvario Fernandez was watching Melissa Carranza at their White Center home Oct. 3 when he threw her onto the kitchen floor because she was crying. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Melissa died of injuries to her head.

According to prosecutors, Fernandez’s wife returned home to discover that Melissa was having trouble breathing. But the family didn’t call 911, instead opting to pick up the child’s mother, Leonor Contreras, at work and then drive to the hospital.

Fernandez is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. Bail was set at $1 million.


Building evacuated after malfunction

About 1,000 people were evacuated from a 21-story downtown Bellevue office building Monday afternoon after a fire-system malfunction sent water into two lower floors and a garage area.

The evacuation took place about 3:30 p.m. at One Bellevue Center, said Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Bruce Kroon, public-information officer.

The malfunction involved a burst pipe on Floor 2, said Kroon, and an overheated fire pump, although it was unclear which failure occurred first or whether one event led to the other.

The result, however, was that water leaked into an elevator shaft and a garage, which led to a “logistical nightmare,” he added. Since it was near the end of the working day, everyone was asked to leave the building by walking down flights of stairs. The evacuation took place successfully, he added.

“There was never a threat to anyone in the building,” Kroon said.

Building owners will have to repair the systems in order to have it open for business, he added.

Seattle Times staff and news services