I’m pleased to announce that Noozhawk Asks is live, and I’ve been impressed with the quality and diversity of questions we’ve received so far.

We were first introduced to our new reader-engagement platform, officially known as Hearken, at last fall’s national conference of the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers Association, of which Noozhawk is proud to be a founding member.

Hearken founder and CEO Jennifer Brandel explained how the program has enabled KQED in San Francisco to explore with its public radio listeners the Bay Area’s unique and often quirky identity. She showed us how BBC News is employing it to inform its readers about major news developments.

And she hooked us up with Charlottesville Tomorrow, an online-only Virginia news organization that is using Hearken to investigate public-policy issues in the shadow of Monticello, the home of one of America’s all-time greatest innovators, Thomas Jefferson.

We ambitiously said we wanted to do all of that, and asked our web team, Hop Studios, to make it happen. They did.

With Noozhawk Asks, you — our readers — get to ask the questions and help us decide what to investigate. Our team will select the best questions, and we’ll strive to answer them in the form of a story. In some cases, we’ll ask our readers to vote on priorities.

We may even use you in the reporting process, with questions directed specifically at readers. Right now, we’re asking for your suggestions on what should be done with the Macy’s space at Paseo Nuevo in downtown Santa Barbara. Click here and scroll down the page to the “What’s Our Question?” box.

Unlike story comments, which I find to be mostly toxic and tiresome, questions tend to be more productive and civil methods for feedback. We’re not averse to anonymity, but we will be giving far more attention and consideration to those who are engaging with us openly.

We want to encourage readers who aren’t afraid to unmask themselves, as it were, and to discourage those who prefer to sneak around in the shadows with questionable motives.

In the meantime, Noozhawk had 109,452 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics. Here’s my take on your top stories:

1. One Girl Arrested, Another Sent to Hospital After Fight at Santa Ynez High School

An altercation between two girls escalated into an April 3 beat-down on the campus of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, with one girl whaling on another as if she were trying out for the Ultimate Fighting Championship prep squad.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said deputies were called to the campus at 2975 E. Highway 246 after the fight, which another student videotaped on a cell phone before a teacher’s aide was able to separate the two combatants.

Hoover said one student was transported to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital with undisclosed injuries after the brawl, which erupted just before 10 a.m. near the girls’ locker room.

She said the second teen was arrested on felony battery charges, and booked into Santa Maria Juvenile Hall.

On April 7, the District Attorney’s Office charged the girl with one felony count of assault. The 15 year old appeared before Juvenile Court Judge Arthur Garcia, who scheduled further proceedings for April 21.

The two students’ identities were not disclosed because they’re minors.

Hoover said the incident is under investigation by school and sheriff’s officials.

“None of us at Santa Ynez High School take this incident lightly,” Principal Mark Swanitz said in a statement.

“Student safety is our top priority. I can assure you that the school’s disciplinary response will be vigorous and appropriate.”

The girl who recorded and uploaded the video has been disciplined, said Swanitz, who cited student privacy and the ongoing investigation in declining to elaborate on the consequences.

School officials say there have been three unrelated fights in recent weeks, all three of which were posted on social media. A larger-than-usual law enforcement presence was noted on campus April 7, the last day before the school’s week-long spring break.

NOT a good day at the beach. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

NOT a good day at the beach. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

2. Emergency Crews Respond to Apparent Drowning at Santa Barbara Harbor

By all accounts, Crescencio Ramos Ramirez was just trying to do the right thing. It cost him his life.

Crescencio Ramos Ramirez, the father of two young boys, died trying to save another child. (Ramos family photo)

Crescencio Ramos Ramirez, the father of two young boys, died trying to save another child. (Ramos family photo)

Ramos, 33, of Santa Barbara, and a group of family members were at the Santa Barbara Harbor late on the afternoon of March 30 when he noticed a young girl struggling in the water off the sand spit at the end of the breakwater.

Wading in to try to rescue her, he ran into trouble himself.

“He became caught up in the current and the wind that was blowing pretty strong out there,” Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado told our Tom Bolton.

“He was pushed out toward one of the buoys that was about 20 yards offshore.”

A surfer, who happens to be the son of a good friend of mine, pulled the unconscious Ramos back to the beach. Bystanders and a Harbor Patrol officer performed CPR on him but he could not be revived. Emergency personnel arrived and pronounced him dead at the scene.

Amid the chaos, two Santa Barbara City College students — Bara Alkassir, 21, from Egypt, and Elton Lankenan, 23, from Ohio — rescued the girl, who was unhurt in the ordeal.

Santa Barbara police are investigating the circumstances of the death, and the county Coroner’s Office was to perform an autopsy.

Ramos was an employee at Bacara Resort & Spa in Goleta and the Belmond El Encanto hotel in Santa Barbara, according to Anne Elcon, Bacara’s director of marketing and communications.

She described him as “a wonderful man” who was “very beloved.”

Friends established a GoFundMe page to help Ramos’ two sons, Angel, 6, and Bryan, 3, and to return his remains to his native Mexico. As of April 6, the page was $5,500 away from its $25,000 goal. Click here to make an online donation.

A funeral Mass was held April 6 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

3. Woman, Dog Airlifted From Wilderness Area After Rattlesnake Bite

A woman and her dog were airlifted from the Santa Barbara County backcountry the afternoon of April 4 after the pooch — a mixed-breed border collie — was bitten by a rattlesnake.

Authorities say the woman apparently thought the snake had sunk its fangs into her as well, but that turned out to be not the case.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said the woman and her dog were backpacking in Los Padres National Forest when the incident occurred. She said the woman called emergency dispatchers about 1:15 p.m. from the Hurricane Deck area of the San Rafael Wilderness.

According to Hoover, county Copter 1 was in New Cuyama at the time and began heading toward Hurricane Deck. County Copter 3 also was dispatched with a team of medics, she added.

“Sheriff’s Air 3 conducted a one skid landing and inserted medics to the victim,” Hoover said. “Both the dog and the victim were then loaded into the helicopter and were flown to the Santa Ynez Airport.”

The dog was taken to a local veterinarian for treatment. Its medical condition was not available.

Authorities did not disclose the identity of the woman, who is believed to be in her 20s and from the San Luis Obispo area.

4. Suspect Arrested in Goleta Church Break-Ins, Burglaries

Matthew 5:39 may be inspirational for Christians, but the law is a human institution that often takes a more Old Testament view of criminal justice.

Joseph Rose apparently didn’t get the message that 'life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.' (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Joseph Rose apparently didn’t get the message that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

That’s probably unfortunate for Joseph Rose, whose road to redemption appears to be detouring to the temporary purgatory of Santa Barbara County Jail.

According to sheriff’s Sgt. Garrett Te Slaa, an employee of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church called 9-1-1 about 8:30 a.m. April 2 to report an intruder inside the church, at 820 N. Fairview Ave.

The man fled when confronted, but the employee’s description helped deputies track down the suspect a few blocks away.

“When we contacted the suspect, he had cuts on his hands and arms consistent with broken glass, and he had property from the church with him,” Te Slaa told our Sam Goldman.

He said Rose also appeared to be carrying loot linked to nearby Coastline Christian Academy, at 5950 Cathedral Oaks Road, and Goleta Valley Church, a couple of blocks away at 595 N. Fairview Ave.

Rose, formerly of Boston, was booked on two counts of burglary, Te Slaa said.

Michael Towbes leaves little to chance at Montecito Bank & Trust. (Noozhawk file photo)

Michael Towbes leaves little to chance at Montecito Bank & Trust. (Noozhawk file photo)

5. Michael Towbes Stepping Down as Chairman of Montecito Bank & Trust

Michael Towbes, the longtime chairman of Montecito Bank & Trust and one of Santa Barbara County’s most visionary businessmen and generous philanthropists, plans to step away from the bank he co-founded in 1975.

Towbes, 87, has had a run of recent health challenges, and the bank on April 3 announced a succession plan its board will consider at its regular directors meeting later this month.

“I have had an amazing life,” Towbes said in a statement from the bank explaining his intention to tap the brakes and spend more quality time with his extended family.

Given Towbes’ background as an engineer, it’s not surprising the bank’s succession plan contains no surprises:

» Janet Garufis, who has served as president and CEO almost since she joined the bank 10 years ago, will replace Towbes as board chairwoman.

» George Leis, MB&T’s executive vice president and chief operations officer, who came over last year from Union Bank and Pacific Capital Bancorp/Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, will take Garufis’ place as president.

“Michael Towbes is immensely proud of what everyone at Montecito Bank & Trust does to make our bank the best community bank on the Central Coast, and the communities we serve better places to live and work,” Garufis said.

“He has built the right infrastructure, with the right leaders, and in turn has trusted me and my leadership team and the bank associates to carry out our very important mission today and into the future.”

MB&T, which finished 2016 with more than $1.3 billion in assets, is the oldest and largest locally owned bank in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. That won’t change either since the institution is owned by a trust and will remain independent “now and in the future,” according to the bank statement.

Look for our Tom Bolton’s exclusive interview with Garufis, which we’ll be publishing next week.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Santa Barbara Man Dies in Highway 101 Crash in Carpinteria.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Although I think the website devoted to his old man was more deftly sardonic, this one gives the world plenty of reasons to laugh not with Nork dork Kim Jong-un but at him: Kim Jong-un Looking at Things.

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Watch It

A World War II veteran who waited 71 years to receive his diploma from Orangefield High School in Orange, Texas, was asked if he could wait one more hour. That’s how long it took the school to pull together a complete commencement ceremony for him. #bobcatpride

YouTube video

(Inside Edition video)

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.