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Latest from Stephanie Brown

    Saying families and retirees are caught in the middle, Jacksonville leaders are highlighting aid available for furloughed federal employees in the city, as the partial government shutdown continues. If you are in need and can demonstrate that you don’t have sufficient resources, there are small grants available through the City’s Social Services Division. You need to have documentation showing you have been furloughed or are experiencing a stoppage in pay from the federal government. The City says there is more than $500,000 available through these small grants, which are for assistance with rent, mortgage, utilities, and food. To apply for these small grants, you can contact the COJ Services Division at 904-630-0545. JEA is offering bill management programs, which include payment plans and payment arrangements. A payment plan is designed to help customers who need a few extra days, and a payment arrangement lets you pay a past due amount over several months.  To determine the best option for you, you can reach JEA customer service at 904-665-6000. Specifically for Active Duty Coast Guard personnel affected by the shutdown, the City is offering a one-time, interest-free loan of up to $500 through the Military Affairs and Veterans Department Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center. To be eligible, you must be assigned to a base in Duval County or reside in Duval County, and have a Military ID Card. The loan is repaid over six months, after normal pay has resumed. You can find out more about this loan and other resources by contacting the Jacksonville Military Affairs and Veterans Department at 904-630-3680. There are several other organizations, including the United Way and USO that can provide relief in various areas.  Share this on Facebook to let friends know about this assistance:
  • A now-former employee of the Jacksonville Housing Authority has been found guilty of sexual battery on two victims. The State Attorney’s Office says Mitchell Ray Sr. used his position at JHA to force the women in to sexual relationships, by threatening to evict them if they didn’t comply with his demands. The two victims were unknown to each other, but both testified to Ray’s actions. He has been found guilty of two counts of sexual battery and could be sentenced to up to 30 years. A sentencing hearing has been set for February 11th.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is asking for your help tracking down 18-year-old Oneil Exantus, who is wanted for murder. JSO says the warrant for his arrest is relating to an active homicide investigation, but they have not said specifically what case he’s believed to be connected to. Police say Exantus is aware of the warrant, so he should be considered armed and dangerous. Police say Exantus is known to frequent the Arlington area, and police and SWAT tried to find him at his home today, but could not.  If you have any information about this suspect’s location, JSO says you should not try to apprehend him. Instead, contact JSO at 904-630-0500 or JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. You can also submit an anonymous tip and be eligible for a possible $3,000 reward by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
  • The Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown Jacksonville could be completely gone within the next three years. A new timeline from the City of Jacksonville shows they hope to have construction on the $37.5 million project completely done by the end of 2021. The current goal is to begin design and construction in the first quarter of next year. This year will be spent soliciting and ranking bids, negotiating with high ranking Design-Build Teams, and ultimately awarding the project in the 4th Quarter of 2019. The project is being funded a third each by the City of Jacksonville, Florida Department of Transportation, and US Department of Transportation.  FULL COVERAGE: Hart Bridge ramp removal project There are several goals behind the ramp demolition, as outlined in grant proposals submitted by the City for funding for the project, but it all mainly stems from a desire to promote economic development. As the ramps stand now, the City argues they bring traffic over and past and area that they want to instead send traffic to, in order to sustain new development like shops and restaurants. The visual of the ramps is also an impediment, according to Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who the City is negotiating with as the master developer of the Shipyards property. In addition to the Shipyards, Khan has previously put forward a vision for a redevelopment of the Sports Complex overall, but he says those projects depend on taking the ramps down. The current design is to bring traffic from the Hart Bridge down to grade on Bay Street, which would be upgraded and widened. Around A. Philip Randolph, traffic would either continue on Bay or pick back up on the ramps to get closer to the center of Downtown. The project also includes adding a defined intersection at Bay and Gator Bowl Blvd, bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements, and more.
  • A mass shooting in the Spring Park area of Jacksonville was a targeted attack on six people in an SUV, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. WOKV has been pushing for updates through the day as police investigated this incident, which happened around 2AM. JSO says they were alerted to the shooting when six people pulled up to Memorial Hospital in a bullet-riddled SUV. One of the victims died, one is in critical condition, and the other four are believed to have non-life threatening injuries. JSO now says this all actually started at what they’re calling a “late night rap music event” at Paradise Gentlemen’s Club on Baymeadows Rd on Jacksonville’s Southside. They believe all six victims were at that event, and left together by driving up I-95 and exiting at Emerson Street. Near the intersection of Emerson and Spring Park Road, JSO says a suspect vehicle pulled alongside the victim SUV and one or more people inside started shooting. Police say this was a “targeted act of violence” against the people in the SUV. The man who died has been identified as 25-year-old Willie Addison. JSO says they believe help from the public will be a “key” to solving this case. They’re asking you to come forward if you have information about what happened in the Club or details on any vehicle that may have followed the victims from the Club to where the shooting happened. The victims were in a silver Chevy Tahoe, and traveled from Baymeadows to I-95 northbound to Emerson around 2AM. If you have any information, you can contact JSO at 904-630-0500 or JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. You can also submit an anonymous tip and be eligible for a possible reward by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
  • There has been a spike in the price at the pump in the last couple of days, but relief should be coming soon. GasBuddy Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick DeHaan says many Florida cities are experiencing “price cycling”.  This happens when two factors come together. One being that the price of oil is up about $10 from where it was Christmas Eve. The higher price has been met with the second factor, a lot of competition. “Stations undercut each other very slowly- a couple of pennies every day- meaning prices go down a penny or two per day, to the point where stations are losing money. And that’s when prices all of a sudden jump back up,” DeHaan says. For the stations that raised prices, DeHaan says you should expect to see the cost-per-gallon on you trickling down once again. He says the cycle will likely continue to repeat though, so you should be patient and time out when you get your next tank. Despite the spike, the price-per-gallon is still about thirty cents lower right now than this time last year, at $2.19. DeHaan says gas prices will stay relatively low and around $2-per-gallon for the coming weeks, before things start to climb in to the summer.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is welcoming back K9 Officer Jeremy Mason, nearly 18 months after he was shot in the face while chasing a robbery and carjacking suspect. The shooting happened in July 2017, when police were called to 103rd Street and Old Middleburg Road, after community tips led them to believe a bank robbery suspect was in that area. Police say that suspect- since identified as 28-year-old Michael Harris- carjacked and kidnapped a woman there by getting in her car and forcing her to drive off. JSO says Mason was shot in the ensuing chase, but continued to pursue the suspect. The suspect vehicle got in a crash with a civilian car, and Mason and a detective ultimately fatally shot Harris when he refused to disarm, according to police. Mason has undergone 12 surgeries through his recovery, according to JSO. Today marks the first day back on the job for Mason and K9 Echo.
  • The fatal shooting of 7-year-old Tashawn Gallon last February was at the hands of one of the boy’s family members who was acting in self defense, according to new investigative reports released by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. WOKV told you Monday that the death had been ruled “excusable”. On Tuesday, police say they had an additional consultation with the State Attorney’s Office, and have instead classified the case as a “justifiable” homicide instead. Gallon was caught in the crossfire in a Durkeeville shooting last February. Police say an SUV pulled up in front of a Mt. Herman Street home and at least one person inside opened fire. Police have now concluded that three people outside of that home shot back. One of them was a family member of Gallon, and the reports show that it was his gun that fired the fatal shot, while shooting back at the SUV, which is believed to have been done in self defense. The dozens of pages of investigative reports paint a complex and interconnected web of several persons of interest, shootings, and even murders that may be connected to this case. The motive to the shooting appears to have been either in retaliation, or in relation to a falling out between the family member and a person of interest. Police have many statements from people who were interviewed and other evidence that points to that specific person of interest being involved in the shooting from the SUV. That man was killed just a few months after this incident. The reports also show that another shooting took place near this crime scene, and that one was first alerted by ShotSpotter. A vehicle was found on West 6th Street with a bullet hole in the driver’s front window, according to JSO. The vehicle was last driven by a family member of the previously mentioned person of interest. That last-seen driver is also family to a different person of interest who may have been in the SUV. On a different block of West 6th Street, police recovered the SUV they believe was used in the Mt. Herman shooting. The vehicle had a fresh bullet strike on the rear passenger side, according to JSO. It had previously been reported stolen. Because nobody has been criminally charged with the boy’s death, WOKV is not naming the persons of interest or family members involved. A second person who was shot in the hand in the incident that killed Gallon- and who is also believed to have returned fire on the SUV- was arrested on a weapons charge, but that was later dropped.
  • The old City Hall Annex is set for implosion this weekend, and there are important things to know if you plan to be within a few blocks of the 220 E Bay St. building when it happens. The implosion is scheduled for 8AM Sunday, January 20th. From 7AM through around 10AM, there will be restricted access to the area bordered by Main Street, Liberty Street, Adams Street, and the St. Johns River. Adams Street and southbound lanes of Main Street will be open, but northbound lanes of Main Street will be closed, as well as roads in that area. Foot traffic will also be prohibited within this “Exclusion Zone”, River traffic is restricted, and air traffic- including drones- is restricted to a half mile radius above the site. JSO will reopen access and roads, as clean-up efforts come to an end. If you’re required to be in the area, the City wants you to stay inside, with doors, windows, and entry ways closed and exhaust fans on. The City says noise and sound pressure levels could be harmful to your hearing, and lingering dust could pose a safety risk, especially if you have respiratory issues, which is why they want you to stay inside. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will communicate when access is restored within the Exclusion Zone. You will hear a series of sirens at 7:58AM, as a two-minute warning to the implosion. When the implosion is done- which is expected to be about five minutes later- there will be another siren sound. The City says anyone who is sheltering in place should continue doing that, because even when the implosion is done, falling debris could produce dust that could travel through the area, especially if there is wind. JSO will notify the public when it is safe to be outside. The City hopes that conducting the implosion on a Sunday will provide for the least amount of disruptions for you.
  • With funding for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Master Plan now in motion, WOKV is learning more about when you will start to see the changes. As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, a plan was approved to borrow $5 million each of the next five years, with the Zoo matching that amount in private donations, and all of the money dedicated to the ten-year Zoo Master Plan. While the total $50 million will not cover the entire tab, Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio says he was satisfied and excited to see the City sign on to the funding. “We’ve been working on it so hard, for so long, for it to finally come together,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget WOKV has learned from the Zoo that the first project under the Master Plan that is already in motion is a $3 million overhaul of the parking area. Planning is already well underway, with construction expected to start in then next couple of months. Vecchio says it’s important to start with parking, because as the Zoo has grown in popularity, so has the traffic to get in and congestion in the parking lots. “I don’t want people to start their visit here with a negative experience, so being able to fix that from the very start is really exciting,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: In-depth look at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Master Plan They are reworking their retention ponds, to create a water feature at the entrance point to the Zoo. There will be an entrance bridge over that water, which funnels cars on to a landscaped lane that encourages cars to continue moving toward the front of the lot to park- near the main Zoo entrance, which is also being moved under the Master Plan. Traffic can navigate off the main drag and in to the various rows to park, as well. This new central flow is aimed at not only making traffic more streamlined, but improving your safety, because you’ll now be walking with the flow of most of the traffic. The lots themselves are being repaved and marked, and about one hundred new spots are being added as well. The exception is Lot C, where they won’t be paving everything, but they will be more clearly marking spaces, in order to ensure the parking lot can be used in an orderly manner, even if there is no attendant. The parking overhaul is expected to take inside of a year to complete. A few months after construction on the parking begins, Vecchio says they start work on the new entrance. The main gate and the education center are being flipped, under the Master Plan. The intent is to have a more centrally located main entrance, which creates two possible “loops” through the Zoo, as opposed to the current set-up, which requires a long walk to get to the end. The new entrance will have a restaurant and gift shop, as well as admissions area. Tandem with that project is adding a new entrance exhibit, which will be “Manatee River”. The exhibit will highlight the species, while also showcasing the work that’s done at the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center, which is not open to the public. The Center cares for and rehabilitates manatees until they can be released back in to the wild. Two of the manatees currently in the Center- Percy and MJ- have been there more than a year, but could be released as soon as next month, according to the Zoo. The exhibit will feature a long-stay manatee or one that can’t be released back in the wild, in a natural setting. The new education center, when it’s moved, will also serve as an event space. It will overlook the to-be moved and rebuilt lion exhibit, which will be “wellness-inspired”, meaning the lions will have a lot of features that allow them to climb or otherwise entertain themselves, to ensure they’re healthy mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. The Zoo’s “Range of the Jaguar” and “Land of the Tiger” are other big cat exhibits that have “wellness-inspired design”. The new “Great Apes Loop” in the African Forest embraces that as well. “We want our animals to thrive and be happy, and we’re using that philosophy as we design our new exhibits,” Vecchio says. Vecchio says they’re doing everything they can to keep the impact on you minimal, including planning construction around high-traffic months, looking at phased approaches, and more. “We want every day to be a great experience at the Zoo. We don’t want to say, ‘Well, yeah, you’re having a crummy time today, but come back in a year because it’s going to be better’. We intend it to be a great experience every day, so we’re very careful about how we time construction and the logistics of what’s going to be closed,” he says. There is a lot involved in this Master Plan beyond this first phase as well- a new attraction, and overhaul of “Wild Florida”, the addition of an “Orangutan Reserve”, a flex exhibit that can feature different animals, a new “Nature Play Zone” outside of the main gate to use for education and programs targeting at-risk youth, and more. “Hold on to your hats. It’s gunna be an exciting ten years here at the Zoo,” Vecchio says.
  • Stephanie Brown

    Assistant News Director

    Stephanie Brown is the WOKV Assistant Director of News and Afternoon Reporter. She guides the direction of WOKV’s news content, frequently contributes to social and digital platforms, and is a leading voice on-air. Stephanie has been with the team full-time since May 2012, which is when she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in telecommunication and political science. When she’s not enterprising story ideas or digging in to an investigation, she’s likely cooking or enjoying downtime with her dog.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Florida schools are seeing a critical shortage of certified science, English and math teachers. A new report by the Florida Department of Education says those subjects are among areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach those courses. “We have a shortage because people aren’t entering the teaching profession like they used to because there’s no security in teaching,” Renna Lee Paiva said. Paiva is president of the Clay County Education Association. She said those who have been in the education field for years are extremely concerned about the teacher shortage. In Duval County, a district spokesperson said there are 146 total vacancies at schools, with 21 open positions in math and four in science. In St. Johns County, the district had 28 unfilled positions as of Jan. 7, including four in math and science. Clay County Schools says it has 14 vacancies overall, with five in math and science. “We start to see fewer freshman coming in and saying, ‘I want to be an elementary teacher or I want to be a biology teacher,’” Paul Parkison, chair of the University of North Florida’s childhood education program, said. He told Action News Jax that the university starts recruitment early, educating incoming freshman about teaching opportunities. “We didn’t used to have to have those conversations, we’d have freshman coming in that were already excited about being teachers,” he said. “We actually initiated a couple programs that are targeted toward particularly the secondary, our UNF graduates who didn’t consider teacher as their primary major. Maybe they’re a history major or a biology major.” Local education experts, including Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachel Tutwiler Fortune, said the focus needs to be on higher pay. “There are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Our pay scales, our benefits is all in jeopardy and it’s up to the legislators to fix it so we can give quality education to our kids -- which is our primary goal,” Paiva said. Full statement from JPEF: “The teacher shortage is a problem in Duval County as well as across our state and the nation, and there are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities. The Duval County School Board recently discussed one of these promising solutions -- creating a program to help public high students work toward a degree in education, in order to increase the number of aspiring teachers. This would be a win for Duval County students now and in the future, and we applaud Duval County Public Schools for exploring how we could adopt this innovative model -- known as 'grow your own teacher' -- in Jacksonville.”
  • You've been hearing the buzz about autonomous vehicles for a while, now lawmakers in Florida are discussing the possibility of making the futuristic form of transportation a reality. A state representative from Duval County has filed legislation to allow the development and deployment of those autonomous vehicles.  State Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) says as an engineer by trade, he understands the benefits autonomous vehicles would bring with them. He says if Florida were to ban those types of vehicles, it would stunt the state's potential for growth.  'Those engineers aren't going to move here. Those planners aren't going to move here. Those are high paying jobs,' Fischer says.  He says he can imagine Jacksonville as a place where football fans will be able to hop on driverless vehicles to take them to Jaguars games at TIAA Bank Field. He says the Skyway, linking one side of the St. Johns River to the other in downtown, is a prime example of something that could be updated if his bill goes through.  'We have a public transportation component that's already looking to go that way,' he says. 'My legislation would help enable them to move in that direction.'  Fischer says autonomous vehicles would also be a major help to the blind community. Both AARP Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have offered their support for the legislation, saying their members will have more mobility opportunities if the bill goes through.  “For blind people, people living with disabilities and some senior citizens, self-driving cars will mean greater independence,” President of the Florida Council of the Blind Sheila Young says in a statement.  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring the companion measure in the Florida Senate. Fischer says he thinks the legislation should make it to the governor's desk within a couple months.
  • Two Florida fifth-graders are accused of plotting to kill an 11-year-old classmate and escape in a golf cart last month. The plot unraveled Dec. 14 at Roberts Elementary School in Tallahassee, where the alleged victim and the accused students, ages 10 and 11, all attend school. A 32-page police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat details the plot, which resulted in both students’ suspension and civil citations for conspiracy to commit battery and bringing weapons on school grounds.  The students are also being recommended for expulsion, the Democrat reported.  “This obviously is a very serious matter,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. “There is zero tolerance in our school system for violence or threats of violence. The individuals who participate in these types of behavior will suffer severe consequences, as (will) these two young boys.” The school’s principal, Kim McFarland, told investigators that the boys “planned and put into effect” a plot to kill their classmate, the Democrat reported.  >> Read more trending news According to the timeline laid out in the police report, one of the accused boys threatened the victim Dec. 10, telling him they would kill him. A few days later, a female classmate told the victim a secret and then went to the two suspected plotters and claimed the victim was spreading rumors about her.  The plotters again threatened the boy, saying they would “take care of him and kill him,” the Democrat reported.  Another student later told police investigators the boys drew a map of where on campus they would take the victim -- an area without security cameras, the newspaper reported. They ultimately changed their mind and planned to take the boy to the school’s garden instead, the police report said.  The day of the planned attack, one of the boys brought a backpack to school with what investigators believe was a murder kit: a wrench, adjustable clamp pliers, a multitool with a 3-inch blade on it and baseball batting gloves. According to police, the student showed the tools to classmates and one of the pair told them “snitches get stitches.” They also told at least one classmate they had the gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the Democrat reported. They planned to use some of the tools to bust through a gate and flee on a golf cart.  During an after-school program on campus, the boys approached the alleged victim and asked if he wanted to go to the “secret hideout in the garden,” the police report said. He told investigators he refused because other students had told him the boys wanted to hurt him.  The alleged victim went to a teacher supervising the after-school program and told what the boys had planned, the newspaper reported. The boys were taken to the principal, who searched the backpack and found the tools, including the knife. The boys denied wanting to kill the victim, but admitted they planned to beat him up, the Democrat reported.  After the incident, McFarland sent parents an email, which was obtained by WCTV in Tallahassee. “Last Friday there was an incident, with alleged intent to harm a fellow student, that occurred in the afterschool program with a group of 5th grade students who had been developing a plan over a series of days,” McFarland said. “Some of you have reached out with concerns and questions. At this time, I cannot share details, but I can assure that your children are safe and the situation is being handled.” McFarland wrote that she met with the school’s fifth graders to discuss the importance of “see something, say something.”   “Many fifth grade students knew of the potential incident but did not tell teachers or their parents,” the principal said. “We discussed the importance of alerting adults when there is any concern for safety for themselves or their fellow students. Please discuss this with your children. It is imperative they learn this valuable skill now.”
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.

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