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USD 383 to discuss joining Juul lawsuit

The Manhattan-Ogden school board on Wednesday will discuss possibly joining a national class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul.

The school board meets 6:30 p.m. at the Robinson Education Center, 2031 Poyntz Ave.

Eric Barton, a lawyer with Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP, will present to the board about the law firm’s planned legal actions against Juul, the largest U.S. manufacturer of e-cigarettes, to force the company to pay for any damages the district’s students have seen as a result of the company’s promotion and sale of e-cigarette products. The Kansas City, Missouri, law firm previously got the Olathe and Concordia school districts to join the class action lawsuit. Barton is a 1987 graduate of Manhattan High.

Although the school district maintains a strict anti-tobacco and anti-vaping policy across all of its schools, frequent e-cigarette use has more than tripled at Manhattan High School. Since 2017, a Kansas Communities That Care survey — an anonymous survey administered to the district’s 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders each year — shows that “frequent” e-cigarette use climbed from 5.4% to 18% at Manhattan High, compared to a similar increase of 9% to 21.9% across all Kansas high schools.

An outbreak of more than 1,600 lung injuries and 34 deaths, including two deaths in Kansas, were linked to e-cigarette use. As part of its investigation into the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control is cautioning citizens to stop using all e-cigarette products while it determines the specific compounds or ingredients that are leading to lung injury.

The board is not expected to take any action on beginning the legal process against Juul at its Wednesday meeting but will likely vote on the matter later this month.

In other business, the board will hear updates on the district’s assessment results — including state assessment, Advanced Placement and ACT scores — as well as Manhattan Virtual Academy and the district’s partnership with Fort Riley.

Complaint: Man tried to rob shooting victim, lists second victim

A Manhattan man tried to rob a victim of money and marijuana before shooting and killing him, according to a complaint filed by prosecutors.

Richard Alan Goens, 29, of Manhattan, is charged with first degree murder, attempted aggravated robbery, aggravated battery and aggravated assault in connection with a shooting Friday night at Park Place Apartments in west Manhattan. He is confined at the Riley County Jail on a $1 million bond.

According to the complaint filed Monday in Riley County District Court, Goens approached 24-year-old Tanner Zamecnik’s vehicle with a handgun with the intention of taking money and marijuana but failed to do so after an apparent struggle. Zamecnik was shot and a second victim, who the complaint identifies as Courtney Yowell, suffered a fractured ankle in the incident.

Emergency responders took both victims to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan for treatment, but Zamecnik later died from his injuries.

Goens had the formal charges read to him in his first court appearance Monday and will appear next at 1 p.m. Nov. 19. Goens had not entered a plea as of noon Tuesday.

Vargo: Election equipment 'doing very well'

People heading to the polls Tuesday morning in Riley County used new election machines and equipment.

County clerk Rich Vargo told The Mercury late Tuesday morning that the machines began running smoothly when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

He said everyone is learning how to use them, but the election office has not seen any problems pertaining to the equipment so far.

Earlier this year, Riley County purchased 200 new voting machines from Election Systems and Software of Omaha, which cost a total of $1.14 million.

Like the old machines, these are digital and have touch screens.

Once voters have made their selections, they can push a button to have the machine expel the ballot so they can view it.

Then they put the ballot back in the machine and push a button to cast their vote officially.

Poll workers are on hand at each location to explain the process to each voter.

People may still request entirely separate paper ballots at the polls.

The new machines also are height-adjustable, making it easy for people in wheelchairs, for example, to use them.

Voting at the polls ends Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Election results will be published on themercury.com as soon as they are available Tuesday evening.

OUR NEIGHBORS | Award-winning bartender says family at heart of work, personal life

Beatriz Lopez has many titles, including mother of four, and now she can add award-winning bartender to that list.

Lopez has worked as a bartender at Longhorn Steakhouse in Manhattan for three years and bartended at the restaurant for two.

Lopez recently came out on top in the Bar Stars Series, a regional competition Longhorn Steakhouse hosted across the country to test their employees’ skill and knowledge behind the bar. Lopez moved on to the regional contest, which took place in Olathe, after she scored well in a test at the Manhattan location. She said she had modest expectations for the contest at first. She was one of 58 employees out of more than 515 Longhorn locations in the country to take home the title.

“Before the test I was super nervous,” she said. “I thought I couldn’t do this, but when I’m actually behind the bar, I can get it done easy, fast, right. It went really well and I was confident back there.”

Lopez was tested on things like pouring technique, drink knowledge, ingredient compatibility and more. As the top finishers were announced, Lopez said she never expected to take first place.

“I went in there with the mindset of ‘Just do your best,’” Lopez said. “Then they said my name and I was like what? It was nuts, like are you serious? I got really teary-eyed and super emotional because I didn’t think I was going to win.”

Lopez said she walked away with a trophy, gift basket and cash reward from the competition.

“I like how fast paced (bartending) is,” Lopez said.

“There are days where you’re just kind of everywhere with tables and guests at the bar making drinks. I also like when someone orders something I don’t usually make and I get to look it up and do something new with it. I like trying new things behind the bar.”

Katrina Marshall, managing partner at the Manhattan Longhorn Steakhouse, said Lopez has been a valuable asset to the staff at the restaurant since she started working there.

“Beatriz has been a phenomenal team player for us,” Marshall said. “She was last quarter’s team member of the quarter. She’s a team player in everything she does, but the loyalty she brings to this restaurant and the commitment that she makes to making every guest a loyal guest in our restaurant is top notch.”

Lopez said she hopes her children, 8-year-old Ava, 4-year-old Bria and 9-month-old twins Amaya and Dominic, can take lessons from her work ethic in the future.

“I want them to know that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.” Lopez said. “It might be scary, and you might think you’re going to fail, but it’s OK if you fail. At least you tried. I want them to be able to be strong and go for it.”

Though her own family is large, Lopez said she has found family within her team at Longhorn as well. She and her husband, Jason, moved from Texas to Manhattan about six or seven years ago after Jason was stationed at Fort Riley. Lopez said they fell in love with the area and decided to stay after his service ended.

“Family is so important to me,” Lopez said. “All our family is in Texas — my brother, my sisters, nieces, nephews — so we don’t have anyone here.

“When I started working here, I got really close with a lot of my coworkers and there’s just so much support. From the managing staff, they’re always there for us, like with the twins and the girls. My coworkers rally behind us every time.

“With the competition, they were like, ‘Good luck, you’re going to do great.’ And they always offer to take care of the kids. It’s just a really great place to be.”