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NW Today: 4th military motorcycle fatality in W. Wash.

What’s news in the Northwest today:

TACOMA — The death of an Air Force sergeant in a motorcycle crash Friday on Interstate 5 at Tacoma is the fourth time since April a member of the military has died in a high-speed motorcycle crash in Western Washington. KPLU reports 28-year-old Brandon Butler was riding a high-performance sport bike with a top speed of 165 mph. Three soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord have died in similar sport bike crashes, and the Washington State Patrol says two of the fatalities involved alcohol.

Anniversary of woodcarver slaying in Seattle

SEATTLE — It’s been a year since a Seattle police officer shot and killed a woodcarver who didn’t immediately drop a knife. The brother of John T. Williams has carved two 30-foot totem poles in his memory. The Williams family will dedicate them this afternoon at Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront. Carver Rick Williams hopes they’ll be raised at the Seattle Center. KIRO-FM reports the Aug. 30, 2010, shooting shook up the police department. Officer Ian Birk resigned and the city paid $1.5 million to the Williams family. Officers have been given training in sensitivity and dealing with the mentally ill. More officers are equipped with Tasers now.

Nine orphaned owls return to wild from Sequim center

SEQUIM, Wash. — Nine orphaned barn owl owlets that were raised with the help of a couple of surrogate mother barn owls have flown the nest at the Northwest Raptor and Wildlife Center in Sequim. The owlets were brought from three different nests in April and May, and the center says it’s extraordinary that all survived. The birds were freed last week in a “soft release” in which they were allowed to come and go as they pleased. The center says two wild barn owls started calling in the night and all the owls answered the “call of the wild.” The all-volunteer nonprofit center treats injured or orphaned wild animals so they can be released.

Oregon plastic bottle recycling plant gets under way

ST. HELENS, Ore. — A $10 million plant to recycle plastic bottles is expected to open early next year in the northwest Oregon town St. Helens. The Longview Daily News reports the plant was delayed but a groundbreaking ceremony is planned Wednesday. The Oregon Legislature added plastic bottles to the state’s bottle bill in 2009. The 5-cent deposit on containers led to plans for the recycling plant. Officials say bottles now are shipped to China. The plant is expected to bring 25 jobs by December. Project sponsors say the plant could eventually expand its reach into Washington state.

Former Washington man convicted in Nicaragua

SEATTLE — The family of a University of Washington graduate convicted in Nicaragua is holding a news conference today in Seattle asking the State Department to intervene. The family of 34-year-old Jason Puracal says he was wrongly convicted Monday of drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Puracal was arrested in November at his real estate office. He went to Nicaragua in 2002 with the Peace Corps and stayed to start a family and a business. He faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 6.

Small plane crashes at airstrip, no one injured

BOISE — Elmore County officials say an Emmett couple escaped injury when their Cessna airplane crashed at the end of an airstrip in central Idaho. Lan Smith told deputies the plane was coming in too high when he was landing at the Atlanta airstrip Monday morning so he tried to pull up to make another approach. The plane didn’t gain enough altitude, so he decided to try to land in a clearing at the north end of the runway. The plane’s nose, both wings and landing gear were damaged, but Lan and Pamela Smith were able to avoid injury.

Jury awards $2 million in injury lawsuit against railroad

BILLINGS, Mont. — A jury has awarded a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway employee $2 million in a lawsuit over a 2001 back injury that required surgery and causes chronic pain. The Billings Gazette reports the jury returned the verdict Friday after a trial before District Judge Gregory Todd. Attorney Russell Yerger says Chad Silliker was working in Whitefish in September 2001 when he tripped on a radio handset cord and fell down three steps. Silliker sued BNSF in 2007. Before trial, Todd ruled the railroad could not argue that Silliker contributed to his injury because a trainmaster inadvertently threw away the handset in the years between the injury and when the lawsuit was filed. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas says the railroad was disappointed in the outcome and will look into possible remedies.

State: Portland superintendent broke election law

PORTLAND, Ore. — A state investigator says Portland School Superintendent Carole Smith and other top district employees broke state election laws in a campaign for a $548 million bond issue earlier this year. The Oregonian reports that the compliance officer from the secretary of state’s office named Smith and seven other employees. The investigation report says material the district sent to parents and voters and posted on its Website wasn’t neutral, omitted information about the potential costs to homeowners, and was timed to arrive just before the election. The bond issue was narrowly defeated, however. The paper says the school employees have 20 days to ask for a hearing, or they must pay a $75 fine. A spokesman says the employees believed they were following the rules and will seek hearings.

Wire theft blamed for Willamette Valley outage

EUGENE, Ore. — Pacific Power says wire theft at a substation is to blame for a Sunday night outage that affected more than 7,000 customers in the southern Willamette Valley. Spokesman Tom Gauntt told The Register Guard thieves are risking serious harm and putting repair crews in danger for wire that usually sells for very little as scrap. It took until 2 a.m. Monday to restore service to Pacific Power customers and some customers of the Emerald PUD that shares transmission lines.

Latest Washington wildfire near Omak

The latest wildfire in Washington broke out Monday night in Okanogan County near Omak in the north central part of the state. The sheriff’s office says it burned about 100 acres and threatened no structures. Firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources are helping local firefighters. A fire that was started earlier Monday by a downed electrical wire burned 700 acres in Klickitat County near Wishram in south central Washington. Deputy State Fire Marshal Ron Bowen says about 40 residences were threatened. And a fire started by Sunday night lightning strikes burned about 5,000 acres of grassland in Garfield County near Pomeroy in southeast Washington. There was no immediate danger to homes or other structures.

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