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Originally published April 18, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Page modified April 18, 2013 at 9:37 PM

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Mariners fan hit by Link train dies

In a rare accidental death on Sound Transit’s light-rail line, a baseball fan catching his train to Sodo didn’t notice the train approaching from the other direction.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Seattle Mariners fan Duane Heier had attended all but one of the baseball team’s opening home games, since the inaugural season in 1977.

This year, he tried a new route from his Olympia home to the ballpark. Because of Highway 99 tunnel construction, he expected a parking squeeze around Safeco Field. So Heier and three friends parked near Rainier Beach Station, to catch a northbound Link train to Stadium Station.

Heier, 62, bought a bottle of water at a grocery store, then headed toward the rail platform, in the median.

He wound up in the path of a train going south, was knocked down and suffered head injuries April 8. He died Tuesday.

Station video shows Heier crossing against the pedestrian signal, while watching the northbound train to his right, and he didn’t notice the other train coming from his left, says a preliminary Sound Transit report to the state.

“None of his friends saw this, because they were on the other side, waiting for a train. They think he didn’t hear it,” said Laine McLaughlin, who lived with Heier and owns Steamboat Island Nursery. Heier grew up in Eastern Washington, and his father worked for a railroad, she said.

Heier’s friend Louis Balukoff, also on the baseball trip, said the public needs to realize that the light-rail trains, unlike freight trains “are quiet like the wind.” Balukoff didn’t hear the train or its emergency horn, from a block away.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” he said.

Two other pedestrians have been killed in the Rainier Valley trackway, which runs on the surface four miles. An elderly woman with a walker died weeks after a train struck her at a crossing September 2012. Another woman was hit walking in the trackway in May 2011, an incident officials believe was drug-related, said spokesman Bruce Gray.

Statistics weren’t immediately available, but news archives indicate two suicides in Sodo involving Link trains, a few incidents in which pedestrians were hurt after they walked into a moving train, and several crashes when motor vehicles were hit making improper turns over the tracks, since trains arrived four years ago.

Safety was a disputed issue when the system was designed more than a decade ago to include the section of surface line in Rainier Valley.

The “Save Our Valley” neighborhood group demanded a subway line instead of surface alignment, while rail critic John Niles accused politicians of creating an “intrinsic hazard.” Transit leaders, including then-Chairman Ron Sims, argued that the rebuild of MLK Way would improve safety overall, by calming traffic speeds on a then-dangerous roadway.

In fact, there have been far fewer train-versus-car collisions than the 29 yearly that were predicted in the environmental-impact statement. Sound Transit installed state-of-the-art warning lights and conducted safety outreach that included videos for teens and paper trains for elementary students.

At the Olympia nursery, Heier took care of plumbing, electrical wiring and building their pair of 100-foot-long greenhouses on a 1.5-acre lot, his partner said.

“He was very resourceful, very creative, very can-do,” McLaughlin said. “He had a lot of confidence in his ability to solve problems.”

Since the crash, friends have arrived from Lummi Island and from North Carolina to pitch in with work.

“I’m really supported, and I’m quite amazed,” McLaughlin said Thursday.

An account to cover funeral costs was created at Twin Star Credit Union, P.O. Box 718, Olympia, WA 98507-0718. Checks should be made to “Laine McLaughlin” and the memo line should say “Duane Heier” and account #411133-00.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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