Tuesday, 21 May 2024


UPPER LAKE – A Friday morning fire destroyed an Upper Lake home.

Chrissy Pittman, a firefighter/paramedic with Northshore Fire Protection District, said firefighters were dispatched at 7:55 a.m. to the fire on First Street, between Main and Government streets.

The single-story home with a large attic was fully engulfed when firefighters from Northshore Fire's Upper Lake, Nice and Lucerne stations responded, along with a ladder truck from Lakeport Fire, said Pittman.

In all about 20 firefighters, including a chief and battalion chief, worked on the fire, she said.

The house's Victorian-type construction was a challenge for firefighters, said Pittman. “It took quite a while to actually get in and knock the fire down.”

Pittman said the fire was contained at just after 10 a.m., with another two and a half hours required for mop up.

There were conflicting reports about whether or not someone was in the house when the fire started, said Pittman. Firefighters had received information that children were in the home, but no one was in the house when firefighters arrived.

The house is a complete loss, said Pittman. Damage estimates are not completed.

She said the fire's cause is under investigation.

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MIDDLETOWN – Lake County Sheriff's detectives are investigating a homicide believed to have been committed in connection with an illegal marijuana garden in a remote part of the south county.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported that detectives found the body of an adult male in a grave in a marijuana grow between the Bear Creek Canyon power plant access road and Socrates Mine Road on Wednesday.

The Santa Rosa Police Department contacted sheriff's detectives on Tuesday with information that a missing person from their area may have been shot and killed in an illegal marijuana grow here in Lake County, Bauman reported.

Later Tuesday morning, detectives – using the information provided by Santa Rosa Police – located a very large-scale marijuana growing operation in the area of Highway 175, south of Socrates Mine Road, he said.

Bauman said that when detectives entered the marijuana grow, they confronted several suspects that were believed to be armed and who immediately fled into the woods.

Due to the size, complexity and terrain of the search area, the Sheriff’s SWAT team was summoned for a specialized search, air support was requested from the California Highway Patrol, and the Sheriff’s Mobile Incident Command Post was deployed to the area, according to Bauman.

The investigation and search for suspects in the immediate area extended into Tuesday night and the SWAT team remained inserted in the grow through the following day, said Bauman. During the night in which there was little to no visibility, SWAT members reported hearing subjects trying to re-enter the illegal grow but attempts to contain those subjects were unsuccessful.

On Wednesday at about 7:30 am, Sheriff’s Incident Command received a report that two male Hispanic subjects had been seen running down Highway 175 from the area and acting suspiciously, Bauman said. A sheriff’s patrol unit in the area responded and both were detained.

He said deputies recovered near the roadway a loaded 9mm handgun which one of the subjects had attempted to discard when deputies contacted him. Both suspects were arrested for suspicion of cultivating marijuana and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

An investigation into the illegal grow continued throughout Wednesday while sheriff’s detectives interviewed the two suspects about the operation and the alleged homicide. Bauman said evidence of long-term occupation by an unknown number of suspects was located in several grow sites in the area and several more firearms were recovered.

Interviews with the two arrestees confirmed not only their connection to the marijuana grow, but also to the homicide and one of them agreed to lead detectives to the area where the homicide victim was located, said Bauman.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, detectives located the grave and found the partially decomposed body of an adult male, and also recovered a sawed-off shotgun.

Investigation of the illegal operation continued through Wednesday, said Bauman. The State Department of Justice CAMP Program provided both personnel and air support to assist the sheriff’s office with the eradication of nearly 20,000 marijuana plants, and the movement of personnel and equipment in and out of the homicide scene.

Eradication of the marijuana operation concluded late Wednesday but the processing of the homicide scene continued into Thursday, said Bauman.

The body of the apparent homicide victim as yet to be positively identified and any connection to the missing person case out of Santa Rosa has yet to be confirmed, he added.

Both the illegal marijuana operation and the suspected homicide were committed by means of trespassing on privately owned lands, with no connection to the property owner he said.

The investigation is ongoing, Bauman said.


KELSEYVILLE – A good Samaritan's quick actions saved a Lower Lake man from a burning vehicle Monday.

Gary Hoertkorn of Kelseyville is credited with pulling 18-year-old Charles Barron from a Jeep that caught on fire after a single-vehicle collision, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Just after 3:30 p.m. Monday 18-year-old Arturo Cerna of Lower Lake was driving a 1993 Jeep northbound on Highway 29 north of Honey Cut Lane when his vehicle drifted onto the east shoulder, Garcia said. Barron was riding as a passenger in the Jeep.

Cerna attempted to correct the Jeep's path, which caused it to spin out of control. Garcia said the Jeep traveled across the southbound lane and off the west shoulder, rolling over as it traveled down a dirt embankment and collided with an oak tree.

The Jeep caught fire shortly after the collision, said Garcia.

That's when Hoertkorn came upon the collision and removed the severely injured Barron from the burning vehicle, Garcia said.

Garcia said the Jeep fire caused a small wildfire that was quickly put out by personnel from Kelseyville Fire Protection and Cal Fire.

Cerna was taken by ground ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where he was treated for moderate injuries, said Garcia, while Barron was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital by REACH air ambulance with major life-threatening injuries.

Garcia said it's unknown at this point if either Cerna or Barron was wearing their seatbelt.

The Jeep crash resulted in a temporary closure of Highway 29, as Lake County News has reported.

While traffic was stopped, another crash occurred, this one involving a motorcycle, said Garcia.

At 3:50 p.m. 65-year-old Everette Weller, riding a 2006 Harley Davidson northbound, came upon the stopped traffic. Garcia said Weller "aggressively attempted" to stop but was unable to avoid a collision.

Weller's motorcycle sideswiped a silver BMW driven by 66-year-old Steve Allison of Cobb and then collided with a 1988 Ford Ranger driven by 58-year-old Jerry Jones of Middletown, Garcia reported.

According to Garcia, Weller was then thrown to the pavement where he sustained major life-threatening injuries and was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital by REACH air ambulance.

Middletown resident Wendell Langford, who witnessed the crash along with his family, said he's concerned that authorities on the scene didn't have traffic control or flares in place, which may have prevented Weller's motorcycle crash.

Langford said traffic was stopped around a blind corner, which he said he had warned CHP and sheriff's deputies on the scene about before the crash occurred.

"This guy should have never been in this accident," Langford said.

Langford's concerns about the case have been sent to Officer Nick Powell, who Garcia said is investigating Weller's collision. Officer Steve Curtis is investigating the Jeep crash.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


KELSEYVILLE – The California Highway Patrol's Clear Lake office was among the honorees at a Thursday ceremony where CHP officers and police departments around the state were recognized for excellence in community traffic safety programs.

The awards were presented at the sixth annual California Law Enforcement Challenge conference in Sacramento, which was part of a daylong traffic safety symposium in Sacramento sponsored by the CHP.

CHP offices and police departments throughout the state competed against similar-sized departments for the honors.

“I want to congratulate all of the award winners for their dedication to serving their communities and saving lives on our roadways,” said Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Dale Bonner.

The Clear Lake CHP office was recognized with the Occupant Protection Award, which it received for notable efforts to promote and enforce occupant protection laws.

Lt. Mark Loveless, the Clear Lake office's new commander, along with Sgt. Mike Thomason and Officer Robert Hearn, accepted the award.

Officer Adam Garcia, whose duties at the Clear Lake office include acting as public information officer and media contact, also received a special award for individual achievement for 2007.

The Northern CHP Division selected Garcia for the award from the Office of Traffic Safety and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow based on his “exceptional traffic safety efforts” and for going “above and beyond the normal call of duty.”

Seven other CHP officers from around the state, along with eight police officers and deputies from other agencies, also were honored with individual awards.

The California Law Enforcement Challenge awards showcase the best and most innovative programs produced by traffic safety organizations throughout the state.

The programs are designed to increase usage of seat belts/child safety seats and curtail impaired driving and speeding, which are the three primary causes of death on California roadways.

“It is programs like these that have contributed to the lowering of California’s Mileage Death Rate (number of fatalities per 100 million miles driven) to a record low of 1.18 this past year,” noted Dr. David Manning, Regional Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The awards presentation followed a busy Labor Day weekend for local CHP and other local law enforcement agencies.

The CHP's Northern Division, which includes Lake County and stretches across Northern California to the Oregon border, had two fatal crashes and two fatal victims this past Labor Day, including a fatal motorcycle collision here in Lake County at Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, Garcia reported.

That compares with two fatal collisions and five fatalities in the Northern Division during the 2007 Labor Day weekend, according to Garcia.

In addition, there were 72 driving under the influence arrests this past weekend across the region, compared to 68 in 2007, he said.


LAKE COUNTY – The first cases of West Nile Virus being detected in horses and birds in Lake County have been confirmed, according to state and local officials.

A local horse was found to be carrying the disease this week, though specifics on the animal's location have not been released, said Dr. Jamie Scott, Lake County Vector Control District district manager and research director. Scott confirmed the find to Lake County News on Wednesday.

The state's West Nile Virus Web site reports that the equine case was one of two reported across the state this week, with the other being in Riverside.

The state reported that this week's equine cases brings the total statewide to eight horses in six counties – in addition to Lake and Riverside, Orange, Sacramento, San Diego and Fresno also have reported infected horses.

Also on Wednesday, the first dead bird found in Lake County with the virus was confirmed, Scott said.

The bird in question was an American crow collected in Lakeport on Aug. 21, said Scott.

Approximately 1,658 dead birds infected with West Nile Virus have been found in California this year, according to state officials. That's nearly double the tally at this time last year of 878.

Scott provided Lake County News with a summary of West Nile Virus activity since 2003, which shows the disease's activity is down across all categories this year as compared to last with the exception of equine cases. There were none in 2007.

The first human West Nile case was discovered in the county in 2004, with two others in 2006, and none reported since then.

Statewide, this year human cases total 132, compared to 199 in 2007, according to state officials.

West Nile Virus cases are down this year in horses, according to state statistics. There have been eight equine cases this year, compared with 19 at this time in 2007.

Mosquito samples also are up statewide, totaling 1,244 so far in 2008 compared to 771 at this time last year.

Three Lake County mosquito samples – two from Lakeport and one from Upper Lake – tested positive for West Nile Virus last month, as Lake County News has reported. Last year there were eight local mosquito samples that tested positive.

No sentinel chickens or squirrels have tested positive for West Nile locally this year, Scott reported. Statewide there have been 134 sentinel chickens and 13 squirrels reported to be infected.

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LAKE COUNTY – On Tuesday the California Highway Patrol identified the motorcycle rider who died in a single-vehicle collision Sunday night.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said that James O'Donnell, 42, of Santa Rosa died in a motorcycle crash that occurred at Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa.

O'Donnell was riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle with 44-year-old Shelly Grove of Santa Rosa riding as a passenger when the crash occurred, said Garcia. Both were wearing helmets.

Garcia said O'Donnell and Grove were riding from the resort's lodge toward Soda Bay Road when O'Donnell popped a wheelie, causing the bike to go off the road and over the curb.

The motorcycle hit a tree and a large rock, and both O'Donnell and Grove were ejected from the bike, said Garcia.

Helicopters landed at Riviera Elementary School to transport O'Donnell and Grove to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Garcia said O'Donnell was pronounced dead at the helicopter landing zone, while Grove was transported with major, life-threatening injuries.

Garcia said investigators aren't certain how fast the motorcycle was traveling at the time the crash occurred.

Toxicology tests are pending to determine if O'Donnell was under the influence, said Garcia.

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LAKE COUNTY – A man who has been on death row for more than 24 years for a murder he committed in Lake County lost his bid to have a new attorney assigned to his case on Thursday.

The case of Gerald Frank Stanley, 63, was before Butte County Superior Court Judge Steven Howell on Thursday morning.

Stanley was sentenced to death in February of 1984 for the murder of his wife, Cynthia, who he shot while she sat with her father at his resort in Nice in August of 1980.

This past March, a federal judge ruled that a new competency hearing needed to be held to determine whether or not Stanley was mentally fit to stand trial decades ago.

The Stanley case was moved to Butte County for trial due to pretrial publicity, as Lake County News has reported.

On Thursday, District Attorney Jon Hopkins was in Oroville for a hearing in which Hayward attorney Jack Leavitt was seeking to be appointed Stanley's attorney in place of public defender Dennis Hoptowit.

Hopkins said the hearing took quite a while, as Stanley's extensive appellate court history was discussed.

In a phone interview this week, Stanley told Lake County News that he wanted Leavitt – who he has worked with for several years – appointed to take over his case.

Leavitt, who Lake County News also spoke with this week, traveled to Oroville in the hopes of being appointed to represent Stanley.

Both men have stated that they are seeking to shut down the appeals process for Stanley, who said he wishes to have an execution date.

Stanley anticipated being able to speak via conference call at the Thursday hearing.

However, Judge Howell didn't choose to have Stanley phone in, and dismissed Leavitt's attempt to replace Hoptowit, said Hopkins.

That decision, said Hopkins, was based on Stanley's past actions and a perceived lack of credibility. “He seems to change his mind drastically about his lawyers.”

The federal court also stated that it believed Stanley is manipulating and delaying the case, said Hopkins.

The judge found no indication that Stanley really wanted to substitute in another lawyer, said Hopkins.

“Stanley has had too many manipulative bites at the apple,” said Hopkins.

That means that Hoptowit will remain Stanley's attorney.

However Hoptowit is about to begin a murder trial, said Hopkins, so his availability may be limited for some time.

Hopkins said a status conference on the case is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m.

At that time they will discuss whether they can hold a retrospective competency hearing in Stanley's case.

Whether or not the case can be moved back to Lake County – which Hopkins believes is possible after the passage of more than two decades – is still up in the air.

The competency hearing itself may be difficult to hold this year, said Hopkins.

Leavitt could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A man accused of fatally stabbing a girl and injuring her sister in March will stand trial for the charges.

James Roland Pagan, 32, of Hidden Valley Lake was in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.

He's charged with murder for the March 21 stabbing death of 10-year-old Tessa Faith Walker. He's also facing an attempted murder charge for stabbing Tessa's sister, 14-year-old Kristen.

The girls reportedly were on their way home from school when they were attacked, as Lake County News has reported.

Pagan has pleaded not guilty to those allegations as well as charges of willful cruelty to a child and force causing great bodily injury.

He's being defended by attorney Ken Roush, who Lake County News was unable to contact late Wednesday.

Wednesday's preliminary hearing was a fairly quick one, lasting about an hour and a half. “We just put on a bare bones case,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, adding that not all of the evidence was put forward at the hearing.

Hinchcliff said he couldn't publicly discuss the prosecution's theory about Pagan's alleged part in the attack.

Pagan is scheduled to return to court for an arraignment on Oct. 6, said Hinchcliff. At some point after that, a trial date should be set.

Hinchcliff said he anticipated that Pagan will go on trial next year.

Pagan remains in the Lake County Jail without bail.

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NICE – Fire destroyed a motorhome at a Northshore RV park Monday night.

The fire took placed at the Aurora RV park in Nice, according to Northshore Fire Protection District officials.

Three Northshore Fire engines and one engine from Cal Fire responded to the fire, which was reported at about 8:55 p.m., said Todd Pittman, a Northshore Fire firefighter/paramedic.

The RV was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, said Pittman. Firefighters were able to quickly contain the blaze by about 9:10 p.m.

No one was in the RV when it caught fire, said Pittman. Lake County Sheriff's officials had reported that there was ammunition going off in the RV, but Pittman said firefighters didn't encounter any.

Pittman said the fire caused some heat damage to nearby RVs.

The motorhome was a loss, but Pittman didn't have a damage estimate.

He said the cause is still under investigation.

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SACRAMENTO – State, federal and local water officials gathered Thursday to discuss California’s ongoing drought and ways to alleviate the effects of ongoing dry conditions.

At the Drought Summit hosted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), Director Lester Snow announced the creation of a 2009 Drought Water Bank, a program designed to facilitate water transfers.

“We are in the midst of a drought right now and California potentially faces another dry year in 2009. It’s clear that we must find solutions to our water crisis,” Snow said. “A water bank provides a valuable tool to help provide water to communities who need it most. This is just one of the many ways the state is working to address the drought.”

Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, Secretary for Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director Dorothy Rice and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Don Glaser participated in the summit.

Information about the state’s water and reservoir supply, drought modeling and forecasts of future water allocations, financial and programmatic assistance and other efforts to help water contractors, local water agencies, farmers and all state water users cope with the drought.

A significant recent action was the expedited funding of $17 million in Prop 50 Drought Assistance Program grants last week to local water agencies and districts to implement water saving projects.

At the summit, local agencies had the opportunity to share examples of how a lack of water is affecting their communities and made recommendations about how the state can support local water agencies, large and small, as they grapple with the shortages.

On June 4, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-06-08 declaring a statewide drought, which directed state agencies and departments to take immediate action to address the dry conditions. He also issued a State of Emergency Proclamation for nine Central Valley counties (Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern) to address that area’s urgent water needs.

For the Northern Sierra, this spring and summer were the driest on record since 1921. In addition, 2007 and 2008 made up the ninth driest two-year period in 88 years of record keeping for the Northern Sierra.

Statewide precipitation for the six-month period February through July 2008 was 45 percent of average – the fourth driest of 114 years on record.

State reservoir capacities are at severe lows, with Folsom at 31 percent, Shasta at 34 percent and San Luis at 13 percent.

By the end of this water year (Sept. 30), Lake Oroville will reach its lowest carryover storage since the drought of 1977.

Clear Lake's levels are just slightly above those at this time last year, according to DWR's California Data Exchange Center.

The water shortage is affecting the state’s economy, slowing down development projects and forcing growers to fallow land. For example, farmers in northern San Diego County are stumping avocado trees and pulling out citrus trees due to water shortages. The Westland Water District reports that one-third of the farmland is being fallowed this year, at a loss of at least 500 jobs. The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the result of the drought is a $260 million loss to the state’s ag industry this year.

Preliminary information shows that the 2009 water year likely will also be severely dry. State water planners are preparing for a protracted drought by instituting a variety of programs intended to conserve water and stretch the state’s resources.

To implement the 2009 Drought Water Bank, DWR will purchase water from willing sellers, primarily from water agencies upstream of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

This water will be transferred using State Water Project (SWP) or Central Valley Project (CVP) facilities to water agencies that are at risk of experiencing water shortages in 2009 due to drought conditions and that require supplemental water supplies to meet anticipated demands. Water acquired by the 2009 program would be available for purchase by public and private water systems in California based on certain needs criteria.

Water supplies from the 2009 Drought Water Bank will be open to all water providers who can obtain water from the Delta either directly or by exchange with other water providers who have access to Delta water supplies from the SWP or CVP.

For additional information about the drought, visit the Department of Water Resource’s drought web page at www.water.ca.gov/drought.


UPPER LAKE – Firefighters responded to a small grass fire reported along Highway 20 late Wednesday night.

The fire, dispatched just after 11 p.m., was located on Highway 20 west of Saratoga Springs, according to Cal Fire.

Officials reported the fire was about 100 feet off the road. Local firefighters responded along with Cal Fire, which sent a five-engine wildland fire response team.

Cal Fire said the blaze burned less than half an acre. The cause was not known.

The scene had been cleared and the fire contained before 1 a.m. Thursday, according to Cal Fire.

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Jennifer Harte (second from left) and her homestay family at Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.



MIDDLETOWN – On Aug. 13, Middletown Middle School arrived back in America from an adventure they will never forget.

Twelve lucky students who were chosen after a long selection process along, with three chaperones, traveled to Naka-cho, Middletown's sister city in Japan.

I am one of the students who was lucky enough to go on this trip. This was definitely a big deal for both towns involved in the exchange.

When we arrived in Osaka we took a bus to Naka-cho community center. We were taken to a welcome party which had all of the town council waiting there for us. Every member made a speech including some members from their school board. It was a strange but exciting feeling being in a foreign country surrounded by people who you can't understand.

After the party we met up with our homestay families who we'd stay with during the week. Some of the students got to stay with the same students who visited Middletown last summer, but some students stayed with families they had never met and had no problem getting friendly and comfortable with them. The whole town showed nothing but hospitality and tried to make our stay as comfortable as possible.

It was odd getting used to all the differences in Japan, especially the little things, like instead of lifting the faucet up to turn it on you lift it up to turn it off, using a toilet you had to squat over and driving on the opposite side of the road.

The houses there were very simple as well, but constructed beautifully. There was not much furniture in each room but my favorite room was the living room with the sunken table. There were many shrines everywhere and religion seemed very important to them. Every time we went to a shrine they would pray.

Everyone on the delegation had to be open about trying new things because there was definitely some strange and unfamiliar food. They took us to a creek were we caught fish with our bare hands, cooked them then ate the fish, ungutted. I even ate the fish head, eyeballs and all!

At one point toward the beginning when we all meet the students we had to catch our lunch, noodles with soy sauce, with chopsticks which were being shot down a bamboo shoot. The following day we got to watch a Kabuku (type of dance) play done by the elementary school students. With such grace and beauty they performed!

We got to go on a tour of their schools and see what the normal school day was like for them. Their main sport was Kendo, which we got to try out as well. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's like fencing but with bamboo sticks. Also we got to enjoy visiting some temples like Jogoji Temple, where we did Za-Zen meditation and took part in a traditional tea ceremony followed by a trip to Kyoto's Golden Temple.

The trip was way more then any of us had expected. Many of the delegation stated that we were "rock stars" during our stay. Some funny experiences happened that proved that point like constantly getting stared at, teens wanting our autographs and many people wanting pictures with us as well.

Our chaperones have stated many times that the group of students that went were so wonderful and they wouldn't have wished to replace any one of us.

When asked his favorite part of the trip, the first thing Middletown Middle School's principal, Dan Morgan, said was, "I really enjoyed getting to know the students who made the trip on a completely different level. Traveling with our students, experiencing another country and culture with them, and observing them mature and grow through the experience was really rewarding. I also really enjoyed getting to know these students on a more personal level ... we had a lot of fun together."

Troy Brierly, the school's wrestling coach, our other chaperone, said, "Not even the 1,000-degree heat could have taken anything away from that trip. I will never forget one second of it or the other delegates who shared the experience with me."

I think we all agree that there wasn't one part of the trip any of us would have wished to change. It was perfect and hopefully someday you too can get the chance to go visit this wonderful country.

Jennifer Harte, 14, is a freshman at Middletown High School. She lives with her mom and dad and two cats, and enjoys playing piano and guitar, drawing, writing short stories, reading and spending time with friends. She is an aspiring journalist.



The student delegation with their chaperones and the Naka-cho Town Council. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.




The community of Naka-cho, Middletown's sister city. Photo by Jennifer Harte.




Jennifer Harte tries on a traditional kimono. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.




The Kyoto Golden Temple. Photo by Jennifer Harte.




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