The Stop That Changes Everything

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The Stop That Changes Everything

It’s the moment that you see the blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror and sheer panic runs down your spine.

The police siren begins to blare and, all of a sudden, you grasp the steering wheel trying to prevent your hands from shaking.

Sweat begins to flow freely and you are keenly aware of your pounding pulse.

All of the good times and carefree fun of the night immediately cease to exist.

As you pull off to the side of the road, little do you know how much your life is about to change.

The following are personal stories from four Augustans who agreed to anonymously share their experiences of being arrested for driving under the influence.

They are proof that it can happen to anyone.

 

The Arrest

It was Saturday night around 11 p.m. and Jeff, 45, had just left a local bar after enjoying beers and shooters with friends.

His girlfriend was out of town for the weekend, so Jeff was flying solo.

“Like everybody else, I get the damn munchies when I’m drunk, so I pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot and went through the drive-thru on Washington Road,” Jeff said. “I drove through the drive-thru and placed an order. The next thing I remember was the cop tapping on the window of my car. I was asleep in the McDonald’s drive-thru.”

Jeff says he remembers the Richmond County sheriff’s deputy asking him if he was all right.

“Then he said, ‘Do you know where you are?’” Jeff said. “I looked up at the McDonald’s drive-thru window and I said, ‘I do now.’”

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The deputy asked him to pull his car over to a nearby parking space.

“He walked over and said, ‘Are you tired? Why did you fall asleep?’” Jeff said. “And I basically said to him, ‘I guess because I’ve had a little bit too much to drink tonight.’”

The officer asked Jeff to perform a field sobriety test, but he refused.

“Then, he said, ‘Well, you’re under arrest for DUI. Put your hands behind your back,’” Jeff said.

The deputy handcuffed Jeff and put him in the back of the police cruiser as they waited for a tow truck to arrive.

It took several minutes and, as Jeff’s body began to slowly sober up, he quickly realized Mother Nature was calling.

“I had to go to the bathroom like crazy,” Jeff said. “I remember asking the officer, ‘Can you just keep the handcuffs on and let me walk inside and go to the bathroom? Because I’m about to just pee all over myself.’”

Jeff said the officer told him he had to wait until they reached the downtown jail at 401 Walton Way.

Since Jeff’s arrest, the former Richmond County jail on Walton Way is now closed and all inmates are held at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road.

“He basically said, ‘Pee on yourself,’” Jeff said. “And I remember from the time I was arrested to the time they let me go to the bathroom, it was probably an hour and a half.

By then, I was in real pain.”

“The next thing I remember was the cop tapping on the window of my car,” Jeff said. “I was asleep in the McDonald’s drive-thru.”

When Jessica, 30, left a bar on Wednesday night around midnight, she thought that she was just fine to drive.

“I was in the neighborhood off of Wheeler and Berckmans roads because I was coming from Surrey Center,” Jessica remembers. “There is a big intersection, it is a four-way stop, over by Westminster Schools. I stopped at a stop sign and lit a cigarette.”

The next thing she knew, a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy was flashing his lights behind her.

“The officer walked up to the car and told me that I did not make a complete stop,” Jessica said. “I don’t really know how I could have lit a cigarette and not made a stop, but, according to him, that’s what happened.”

After taking her license, the officer asked Jessica if she had been drinking.

“I didn’t lie about anything,” Jessica said, adding she was simply concentrating on keeping her mouth shut, remaining respectful and trying not to cry. “I said, ‘Yes I have had drinks.’”

The deputy asked Jessica to step out of the vehicle and began giving her the field sobriety tests.

“At the time, he didn’t have me do the breathalyzer. Instead, he called the paddy wagon,” Jessica said. “But the funny thing was when the paddy wagon guys showed up and did the breathalyzer, they were looking over the officer’s notes and said, ‘You did really well on the field sobriety test.’ And I was like, ‘Obviously, not well enough.’”

After taking the breathalyzer, the deputies informed her that she was over the limit.

“So, I went into the paddy wagon and just sat in there, waiting a bit because my sister-in-law was with me and she had to get one of her friends to come pick up my car because she wasn’t going to get behind the wheel and drive because she was out with me that evening, too.”

As Jessica sat and waited to be taken to jail, the seriousness of the situation began to sink in.

“As I was sitting there cuffed, I was thinking about the fact that I would have to tell my mom what had happened the next day,” Jessica said. “It was a terrible thought, even though I was 30.”

 

Doug, 34, was only a few miles from home.

After a late night of hanging out with a friend and drinking in Atlanta, Doug, 34, somehow managed to make the almost three-hour trip back to Augusta.

Half asleep as he was driving down Interstate 20, Doug remembers coasting over into the emergency lane a few times.

It was already about 4 a.m. early Saturday morning when Doug finally reached his exit in Columbia County.

“I was just so close to making it home,” Doug said. “But then it happened. The officer pulled me over and that was it. Once the lights came on, I wasn’t going to dispute it. There was no question that I was over the limit, plus it was like 4 o’clock in the morning and I was half asleep.

”My intention was just to open the car door, walk towards the officer and get in the back of his police car. There was no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Doug didn’t even bother to take the field sobriety test or attempt the breathalyzer.

“I was asleep driving down the road, so I knew,” Doug said. “It was like, ‘You’ve got me.’”

The officer was apparently disgusted by Doug’s condition on the roadway.

“He handcuffed me so tightly that it was excruciating,” Doug said. “I’m pretty sure he did that because he was so pissed off because I was in such a state of slumber and drunkenness. He locked them down hard out of anger.”

The officer escorted Doug to the back of his police car as another unit pulled up behind them.

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“Once I was in the back of the police car, I kept knocking on the window with my head, trying to get their attention to please come and loosen the handcuffs,” Doug said. “It literally took six to eight months before I got the normal feeling back in my hands after that night.”

There was nothing Doug could do, but sit and wait in tremendous pain for the officers to finish searching his car.

“So, I’m sitting there and I’m watching them go through my car and I’ve got expensive stuff in my car. And they are just reading things, going through all of my personal stuff and taking their time,” Doug said. “And I’m sitting there in absolute agony. When the officer finally got in the police car, I kept asking him, ‘Could you please loosen these?” But he didn’t touch the handcuffs until I got to jail.”

 

Tim was enjoying a Friday night out listening to bands playing in downtown Augusta.

He had a few beers that night, but felt like he had waited long enough after drinking that it was safe to drive.

Around 10 p.m., Tim decided to head home, so he jumped in his truck and headed down Riverwatch Parkway.

“I had just gotten on Riverwatch and I rolled up on a roadblock,” Tim said. “At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. It looked like there had been an accident or something because they had the DUI van out there, but it looks an awful lot like an ambulance.”

A state trooper walked up to his truck and asked him for his license.

“He was like, ‘Have you had anything to drink tonight?’ And I said, ‘I had a couple of beers,’” Tim said. “Of course, that’s what everybody says, but I had actually tried to be conscientious about it. I had stopped drinking two hours before I even left the place. But he said, ‘I smell alcohol. Pull over to the side of the road.’”

“As I was sitting there cuffed, I was thinking about the fact that I would have to tell my mom what had happened the next day,” Jessica said. “It was a terrible thought, even though I was 30.”

The state trooper asked TIm to do the field sobriety test and he agreed.

“I passed all the road tests, but then he asked me to sit down on the bumper of his vehicle and he wanted to do the nystagmus test, which is when you follow the pen with your eyes,” Tim said, explaining that if someone is significantly impaired, their eyes will jitter and skip as they try to follow the pen. “But, with the nystagmus test, it is a pretty natural instinct, as you are following the pen, to move your head along with it.”

When Tim began to move his head and not just follow the pen with his eyes, the state trooper got extremely upset.

“He started yelling at me like I was disobeying him on purpose,” Tim said. “He started screaming at me in the street saying, ‘You are not cooperating.’”

That’s when the state trooper asked him to take the breathalyzer test.

When Tim blew into the breathalyzer the first time, something was not working with it.

“The trooper didn’t like the results he got, but he still said, ‘I’m arresting you under suspicion of DUI,’” Tim said. “He searched me, handcuffed me and put me in DUI van all by myself. I was the first person in the van that night.”

Tim remembers sitting on the metal bench in the van, not being able to see what was going on outside.

Over the next two hours, the troopers would add more and more people charged with DUI into the van.

“One after another they came into the van until there was enough people to head downtown to 401,” Tim said. “I guess there were about eight guys in the van. The females that were charged with DUI, they would cart them off in cars. But all the guys ended up in the DUI task force truck.

“In all, it took about two hours. I got pulled over around 10 o’clock and I didn’t get downtown until after midnight. It was a long, long wait and I felt like the sanest person in the van.”

 

From a law enforcement perspective, dealing with motorists driving under the influence is no easy task.

A Columbia County sheriff’s deputy, who asked to remain nameless for the article, explained that most of their DUIs are discovered by weaving drivers.

While that might not be all that surprising, it is interesting to note that a good deal of these drivers are reported by other motorists.

“After we get the call, we have to drive behind them and observe them weaving before we can stop them,” he said. “We normally don’t take citizens at their word because we have to have that person be reliable and come to court and testify that they saw the driver doing that. In the heat of the moment, they’re all about getting the guy off the road, but a month later when they realize they have to take time off of work to testify, not so much.”

The stop itself goes pretty much as you might expect, with various questions and field sobriety tests, but the whole time, the officer is taking note of more than simply a driver’s performance.

“I’ll have the person walk a certain number of steps, turn around and then walk back to me,” he said. “But part of the test is whether or not they can follow the directions.”

Though men who are stopped for failure to maintain lane are usually under the influence of alcohol, he said a lot of women are under the influence of prescription drugs.

“A lot of times, it’s just the drugs themselves — they took an Ambien and though they usually just sit around the house, this time they decided to drive — but sometimes it’s the drug’s interaction with alcohol, though it’s not really an abuse of alcohol at this point, just the fact that the person had a glass of wine and didn’t realize the effect.”

As for the reactions to being stopped, he said those can run the gambit.

“I’ve had a few of them get in the back of the car and tell me they were glad I got them because they knew the needed to go to rehab,” he said. “But a lot of them think, even though they’ve been drinking and drinking that they’re not drunk. They’ve blown three times the legal limit and they still don’t think they’re intoxicated. They really don’t get a realization until I put them into the back of the car.”

When asked about what would surprise non-law enforcement people the most about DUI stops, he didn’t hesitate to answer.

“The number of soccer moms that are picking kids up at school that are drunk,” he said. “We have calls from schools all the time from teachers and principals.”

 

Being Booked

Capt. William Reeves of the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road has seen people in all conditions walk through the doors of the jail through the years.

“I’ve seen people come in and blow almost .30, where a normal person wouldn’t be able to stand,” Reeves said. “But they drink everyday, so for them to register that high is no big deal.”

No matter what state a person is in when they enter the detention center, Reeves insists his employees do everything possible to treat each individual with the respect they deserve.

“The thing we teach all our people is to treat them the way you would like them to be treated if you were in their shoes,” Reeves said. “You give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Treat them the way you would like to be treated, until they give you a reason not to treat them that way.”

For those individuals who have never been in trouble with the law before, Reeves understands that being booked in jail can be an extremely scary process.

“A lot of time the worst ones are the females because sometimes their way of coping with fear is really almost to become hateful,” he said. “It is their way of protecting themselves. We get some females in that have never been in jail before, and sometimes, especially depending on what they have had to drink, they are a handful to deal with until they sober up.”

Basically when an individual is booked in the Phinizy Road detention center, they will be thoroughly searched, all their property will be taken from them and the staff will take their mugshots and fingerprints.

“Then, we will let you make a phone call at that point to see if someone is willing to come bond you out,” Reeves said. “Normally, probably the quickest anybody gets out on a DUI is probably somewhere around four hours. However, we will not let anybody who is highly intoxicated out until they sober up, unless somebody has bonded them and they have a ride.”

“He handcuffed me so tightly that it was excruciating,” Doug said. “I’m pretty sure he did that because he was so pissed off because I was in such a state of slumber and drunkenness. He locked them down hard out of anger.”

After some people are arrested for DUI, Reeves said it is not uncommon to hear them complain that they don’t want to be in the same cell as “criminals.”

“We hear, ‘All I did was get caught drinking and driving. Why are you sticking me in a cell with this criminal?’” Reeves said. “But we do make sure to keep people with violent charges separate from one with non-violent charges. So even though, yeah, you may be in there with a criminal, he or she is still in there for a non-violent charge just like you are.”

 

After sitting in the van for more than two hours, Tim remembers walking into the former jail at 401 Walton Way, getting searched again, having his fingerprints and mugshot taken and then being thrown into the “drunk tank.”

“That place is tiny. It’s smaller than the van and it has a bench on each side,” Tim recalls. “And the smell is terrible. But if you have to go to the bathroom, you can’t do it in there. There is no toilet in there.”

Instead, Tim said, people inside the drunk tank must bang on the door to get one of the jailer’s attention.

“Then, they will take you to an open cell where you do your business,” Tim said. “I mean, I saw one guy taking a poo in front of God and everybody. I was like, ‘Jesus,’

because the open cell is right where they process people in. Everybody that is coming through the door is standing right there, so this guy had to take a poop in front of a big audience, including women.”

After being arrested at 10 p.m., Tim said he stayed in the drunk tank until 5 a.m.

“I was exhausted, but there was no sleeping in there. No way,” Tim said. “Whoever you are, it really doesn’t matter. You are in there with some shady characters. You don’t feel safe going to sleep.”

Tim said he has never been so relieved to see his wife after she bonded him out.

“It’s definitely a degrading experience,” Tim said. “There is no way around it not being degrading. I don’t guess that the people at the jail have to show you any compassion. It’s not in the job description. No one has to be nice to you in jail, so don’t expect it.”

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When Jessica was booked at 401, she remembers the officer asking her to take off her shoes.

“I had cowboy boots on that night,” Jessica recalls. “It was in March, so it was kind of one of those days that you wear jeans, boots and a T-shirt, but it got cold because it was after midnight. So, I was standing on top of my cowboy boots as the officer was collecting my things.”

Jessica said the officer asked her what in the world she was doing standing on her boots.

“I said, ‘Well, my feet are cold. It is cold in here,’” Jessica said.

To her surprise, the officer told her she could keep her boots and wear them while in the jail.

“I went to get my picture done and the people there were nice, too,” she said. “I was crying and my contacts were gross, so they let me go in my purse and get my contact liquid. It was really nice.”

But eventually Jessica’s luck ran out.

“Once I got through the booking, I asked the guy who was walking me to the cell, ‘Hey, I have all these allergies. Can I get some medications out of my purse?’” Jessica said, adding the jailer told her that she could not. “I was like, ‘I understand. I’m not trying to take drugs. If you look at it, you will see it matches the prescription bottle. It has my name on it and everything.’”

Apparently, Jessica had pushed the request too far.

“He said, ‘If you just keep your ass out of jail, you won’t have to worry about this stuff,’” Jessica said.

As she was taken into the holding cell, Jessica immediately noticed a piece of cardboard taped over the only window in the cell.

“There was only a very small, five-by-seven window in the door to the women’s holding cell, but it was blocked by cardboard,” she said. “I didn’t see any cameras inside the holding cell. So, I was in there with a bunch of women and it looked as if the jailers had no way of seeing in. That was the seriously disturbing part of it to me.”

Jessica looked down at her own boots and came to the terrifying conclusion that she could beat everyone in cell to death with her boots without any of the guards immediately realizing it.

“There was a lady in the cell with me who had to be in her 70s,” Jessica said. “She was in there because she didn’t have car insurance. Somebody could have killed her and nobody would have even known because they had cardboard over the window.”

One of the guards at the former jail told her that they had to keep the cardboard over the window because the female inmates will sometimes aggravate the male prisoners.

“They said they will flash them and all kinds of stuff,” Jessica said. “But I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s not safe.’”

By 2:30 a.m., Jessica’s husband arrived with the bail bondsman and they filled out the required paperwork.

“When we were done the bail bondsman said it would take about 20 minutes, so I asked one of the guards, ‘Hey, can I go to the bathroom?’” Jessica said. “I figured it would be nice if I could use the bathroom where I wouldn’t have to pee in front of women in the holding cell.”

The guard agreed and took Jessica into a bathroom that was inside what appeared to be a locker room.

“It was this big bathroom with showers and stuff,” Jessica said. “Well, they left me in there for an hour. I wasn’t going to complain, but it wasn’t really a comfortable situation.

When they finally came to get me, it was almost 4 o’clock in the morning.”

“I said, ‘You know, I’ve been in there for a long time,’” Jessica added. “The same guard was like, ‘Keep your ass out of jail and it won’t happen again.’”

At that point, Jessica said she was physically and emotionally drained.

“I was like, ‘All right, I get that. I screwed up. I had been drinking and drove. I was wrong, but it doesn’t mean you should leave me alone an hour in a bathroom, refuse medication to me and not answer when I knock on the door,’” Jessica said. “It was a long night. I didn’t walk out of the jail until after 6 a.m.”

 

After the officer in Columbia County finally removed the handcuffs from Doug’s arms, his hands were numb.

“I was exhausted, but there was no sleeping in there. No way,” Tim said. “Whoever you are, it really doesn’t matter. You are in there with some shady characters. You don’t feel safe going to sleep.”

The officers directed him into the processing room were he was booked.

“I remember that I was in this big room with very, bright fluorescent lights for such a long time and it was freezing cold,” Doug said. “Once they processed me, they put me in a holding room that was so small that I couldn’t even straighten my legs out.”

There were no benches or chairs in the holding room at all.

“I was sitting on the floor, with my legs curled up staring at these bare beige walls,” Doug said. “I had been awake since 7 o’clock the prior morning and the clock had already rolled over a full 24 hours. I’m exhausted and I’m still awake in this little, bitty room that is freezing cold and I have no idea what is going on.”

Doug was allowed one phone call, so he called his wife, but he had to leave a message.

“And that was it,” Doug said. “I just didn’t know anything. No one talks to you. No one visits and updates you. Nothing.”

The wait was maddening, Doug said.

“You are just in this room by yourself and I thought I would be in there forever,” he said. “I was scared to death thinking, ‘Oh dear God, what if I’m going to be part of this jail population and I’m going to wind up going to breakfast with them and lunch with them.’

I just didn’t know anything. No one would answer a question.”

Late Saturday morning, he was finally told that his wife was picking him up.

“The guy who was behind the counter at the jail that night, he was like the entry level position at the sheriff’s department, he was such a jerk to me,” Doug said. “And the crazy thing is, I see him around town all the time now. I see him at church. I see him at the gym. I see him here. I see him there. And every time I see him, I wonder, does this guy recognize me?”

It is a constant reminder of that night for Doug.

“It was like the lowest point of my life,” Doug said. “They are absolutely seeing you at your worst and thank God, The Jail Report wasn’t around back then because that would have been terrible.

“I just remember the helplessness of not knowing anything and nobody telling you anything. My biggest fear was they had forgotten about me or I’m just in jail now for the next several days because I was arrested over the weekend. You just don’t know.”

 

As Jeff was being driven downtown to the now-closed Richmond County jail on Walton Way late Saturday night, the deputy turned to him and asked, “‘Did you know that you have a warrant out for your arrest?”

Jeff was stunned.

“For what?” Jeff asked.

“Did you get a speeding ticket in Conyers, Ga.?” the officer asked.

Immediately, Jeff remembered getting pulled over in Conyers about eight or nine months ago.

“Did you pay the fine?” the officer asked.

Jeff admitted that he had forgotten about the ticket.

“Well, they have got a hold on you and you can’t get out of jail until the ticket is paid,” the officer said. “You can’t pay it until Monday. Somebody is going to have to go to Conyers and pay that, so I guess you are a guest of us until Monday morning.”

The fear of being forced to spend two nights in jail soon became a reality as he was being booked, Jeff said.

“They take you through the front door and there is a cop there waiting on you,” Jeff recalls. “They take all your money, jewelry from you, they take your belt and shoelaces and then they walk you over to the holding cell.”

That particular night, there were about seven other guys in holding cell with him.

“And you didn’t know who you were going into the holding cell with,” Jeff said. “It could have been a damn murderer or who the heck was in with you, you didn’t know.”

After being arrested around 11 p.m., Jeff sat in the holding cell until almost 4:30 a.m.

“Then, they pulled me out and took me over to another part of the jail and made me strip and gave me an orange jumpsuit, a cot, a blanket and a pillow,” Jeff said. “They walked me and about five other guys up to the fifth floor.”

The fifth floor was exactly where he didn’t want to be, Jeff said.

“When you walk through that door, that’s when reality hits you,” he said. “They take you through one door and you hear all of this screaming and hollering and then when that second door opens, you are in a room with about 200 guys.”

It was a big open room with two tiers, Jeff said.

“I would say there was about 25 cells on the second floor and 25 cells on the bottom floor,” Jeff said. “The reason they gave me a mattress was there was probably about 60 guys sleeping on the floor at the bottom of this room. That’s where I was told to go.”

Jeff said he had never experienced anything like it.

“I didn’t know if somebody was going to try to beat me up or hurt me,” Jeff said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Around 5:30 a.m. that morning, Jeff remembers they began serving breakfast.

Even though he hadn’t eaten or slept all evening or morning, Jeff wasn’t interested in food.

“I remember I had at least five guys during every meal coming up and trying to get my food from me,” Jeff said. “I didn’t care. I think I ate an apple and an orange the entire time I was there. So I didn’t have any issues giving them my food because I didn’t want to eat any of that food anyway.”

But having to deal with the changing mood of more than 60 guys on the floor was difficult, Jeff said.

“There was one little portable TV in the entire room and I remember the NBA playoffs were on,” Jeff said. “The jailers kept dangling it like a carrot, saying if everybody behaved they would let everyone watch the game.”

Most of the inmates complied, so the guard turned the television on right before tipoff.

“But about midway through the first quarter, they turned it off on everybody because somebody had been acting up in the room,” Jeff said. “I remember a lot of the guys got really mad and angry about it.”

Jeff said he was amazed by the limited number of officers watching the entire jail population.

“There was one police officer assigned to all of those guys,” Jeff said. “That one guy was in a big glass office overlooking the entire room. If something had happened in there, what could he do?”

In the particular section Jeff was being held in, there were four pay phones on the wall.

“That one guard in his glass office, if he got pissed off, he had a little button in his office that could turn the phones off,” Jeff recalls. “So, unless everybody was cooperating, the phones would not work. But the minute he felt like it, he would turn the phones back on and you could make as many calls as you wanted. There was no time limit on how long you could talk on the phones unless somebody was saying, ‘Get off. I need to use it.’”

But making phone calls in jail is not cheap, Jeff said.

“That phone was like $2.50 a minute to talk on it,” he said. “It was collect, so whoever you were calling, that bill was charged to them. And the thing that was embarrassing about it was, when you call somebody from the phone, it says, ‘You have a Richmond County inmate calling you collect, do you accept these charges?’ So every time I called somebody, I was afraid they would hang up not wanting to accept the charges.”

Finally, Jeff was able to reach a friend who could get in touch with his girlfriend who was out of town.

“She agreed to drive to Conyers to pay the ticket,” Jeff said. “She was in Conyers at like 8 o’clock Monday morning, she paid the bill, they gave her a release paper and she hauled it quickly to Augusta.”

By 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning, a guard called his name and told him to grab his pillow and cot.

“I walked to the door and he goes, ‘You are out of here,’” Jeff said, adding that he can’t remember being so happy. “I walked downstairs and went back in this little room and stripped. They gave me my clothes back and I waited there for about 10 minutes.”

A female officer walked him to the exit of the jail.

“She walked me to the front door and when she gets you to the door, there is another cop sitting in a tower and you have to read off your full name, your street address and your social security number,” Jeff said. “Once she confirmed that information, then the door unlocks.”

Spending a weekend in jail is an experience Jeff will never forget.

“When they put that orange jumpsuit on you and you go upstairs, that’s the real deal,” Jeff said. “You lose 100 percent control over your life at that particular moment. You are told when to eat. You’re told when to go to the bathroom. You’re told when to go to sleep.

“Anything that you do from that second on, somebody is barking at you telling you what you can and cannot do. You are no longer in control of anything in your life.”

 

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