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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Friends mourning Amanda Jax's death

Amanda Jax had been accepted into the nursing program and was looking forward to starting the professional program in January.

By Bob von Sternberg and Paul Walsh, Star Tribune staff writers [published in the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN, 11/1/2007]

Amanda Jax made time to visit and say hi to former boss Loc Lieu at his Mankato restaurant last week. One of the things Lieu remembered Wednesday is how much she was looking forward to celebrating her 21st birthday.

Police suspect that Jax, enjoying that entry into full-fledged adulthood with a night on the town with friends Monday, overdid the celebrating and died after a night of heavy drinking.

After receiving a 911 call early Tuesday morning, officers and firefighters found Jax, of Mayer, Minn., dead on a bed in an apartment near Minnesota State University, Mankato.

In a news release, police said it "appears that alcohol played a significant role in the death of Ms. Jax."

A department spokesman declined to comment until the department receives a final report on her death from the medical examiner.

"It's way too early to look at criminal charges -- we don't even know for sure what she died of yet, " said spokesman Matt Westermayer.

Jax, a former nursing student at Mankato, was in town to celebrate turning 21 on Monday. She had been a pre-nursing student at the university between 2005 and this summer and had been accepted into the nursing program next spring, a university spokesman said.

During the evening and into the early morning, Jax "apparently became quite intoxicated" and was taken to a friend's off-campus apartment, the police news release said.

When friends found her to be unresponsive in the morning, they called 911.

Following her death, a page on the Facebook social networking site was created online as "a place for everyone to share their memories of our Amanda, Ajax, or also known as Ajacket."

One person posted, "It's hard to believe our journey together is over ... I have known you since elementary school [there are so many memories] you were one of my best friends."

Another wrote: "She was one of the best roommates I've ever had. She was extremely caring, a free spirit, and yes, but she also had a serious side. I remember Amanda when we were 9 and our glasses were the big round kind and feeling shy about them. ... Our first college years she was always the one to quiz us on our homework, or go that extra mile to make sure our grades were higher. ... Rest in Peace, cheesecake."

University President Richard Davenport, in a news release, extended the "campus community's deepest condolences" to Jax's family and friends.

Family members declined to talk about Jax, but Lieu remembered her as "a very friendly young woman, who came in every day with a happy face. She had a good way with customers."

A few months ago, she returned home to Mayer, but visited Lieu at his Great Wall restaurant last week. "She dropped by to say hi, and was so happy she would be celebrating her 21st birthday," he said.

State crime records show that Jax, while enrolled at Mankato and still too young to legally drink, was twice convicted of drunken driving; once in 2005 in Hennepin County and in 2006 in McLeod County.

About 1,400 students a year suffer drinking-related deaths, with fewer than 300 of those from alcohol poisoning or choking in their sleep, a 2002 federal study showed.

In 2005, a "Maverick Health" university newsletter lamented "21st birthday celebrations [that] include birthday rituals that can lead to serious consequences and, in some instances, death."

The newsletter article went on to explain a state law enacted that year that outlawed the "power hour" -- an at times deadly ritual in which a person turning 21 enters a bar at midnight on his or her birthday to binge drink. The law bans anyone from consuming alcohol until 8 a.m. on their birthday. It was not immediately known how soon in the day Jax began drinking.

"Other 21st birthday rituals," the article continued, "like drinking 21 shots or doing a pub crawl for 21 drinks, are nearly impossible to make illegal through legislation but have the potential for the same serious consequences" as the power hour.

"So the next time someone you know is about to celebrate that all-important 21st birthday," the article concluded, "be a good friend and don't pressure them to drink. Forget about buying them a barf bucket and help them have a fun birthday celebration they'll actually remember and be around to talk about on their 22nd birthday."

Services for Jax are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Boniface Catholic Church in St. Bonifacius. Visitation is 4-8 p.m. today at the Johnson Funeral Home in Waconia and one hour prior to Friday's service at the church.

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