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The Mystery of Lafayette Avenue: Snow Removal Queries Go Unresolved in New Rochelle's West End

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The Mystery of Lafayette Avenue: Snow Removal Queries Go Unresolved in New Rochelle's West End

December 31, 2010 - 01:23
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City Manager Chuck Strome calls it all a big mix up, former District 4 City Council Member Roberto Lopez said it was lies being told by liars then later admitted it was true but that he had nothing to do with it, and DPW workers were broadcasting over the radio saying "we're going back to Lafayette and you're not going to believe why!" In the end no one could quite make explain what had happened or how.

Here is what Talk of the Sound has confirmed.

On Wednesday morning, at about the time the City of New Rochelle was declaring an end to the recent Snow Emergency, a rather elite crew of Department of Public Works officials and two workers moved piles of snow in front of, on and through a private, commercial parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue.

The crew was led by Joseph Cotroneo, the number two man in the DPW, and up until a few weeks ago the acting Commission of the Department. Cotroneo, who in 2009 earned $120,174, was the man standing outside the maintenance shed as the District Attorney executed a search warrant in the ongoing criminal investigation of the New Rochelle DPW. The District Attorney has been investigating the New Rochelle DPW since last summer after receiving information about phony invoices and allegations of kickbacks.

Also on hand was Joseph Quatrochi, another top-ranking DPW official. Quatrochi, who earned $85,616 in 2009, was reportedly working a front-end loader. A DPW pick up truck was on the scene along with two DPW workers using shovels to clear snow.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Joseph Quatrochi's full title is Working Supervisor Streets & Highways

The parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue is clearly indicated as a commercial lot with signs from Safeway Towing posted on both sides of the entrance to the parking lot.

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A search of City records shows that the parking lot located at 26 Lafayette Avenue is owned by Quitupan Realty Corp. Quitupan Realty is owned by Roberto Lopez. Roberto Lopez served on the New Rochelle City Council for four years before losing his seat to Richard St. Paul in 2006. Lopez told Talk of the Sound yesterday that he intends to run for his old seat in the upcoming election in November 2011.

Reached by telephone and asked to comment, Lopez vehemently denied that any City workers were clearing snow at 26 Lafayette Avenue despite being informed that City Manager Chuck Strome had just confirmed that the workers had been clearing snow at that location. Told there were witnesses who had confirmed the DPW crew was working at his parking lot, Lopez said they were "liars" and then hung up the phone. An hour later, Lopez called back to say that although there were DPW workers at 26 Lafayette Avenue he had not asked anyone from the City to remove any snow at 26 Lafayette Avenue adding, "I'm not that stupid".

Contacted moments after the first complaint had been called into City Hall, City Manager Chuck Strome initially said that he was not sure why the DPW crew was working at 26 Lafayette but that he was being told it was some sort of mixup and that they were supposed to be clearing snow in front of some other location near Lafayette and Fifth Street. Asked for the actual address, Strome conveyed that he did not know exactly where they were supposed to be but it was "near Lafayette and Fifth" and had something to do with clearing an area where the property had a right of way from the City of New Rochelle. Despite repeated requests over the course of the day, Strome would not provide the exact location where the DPW workers had been assigned, only saying "near Lafayette and Fifth" or a "driveway at Lafayette and Fifth".

During the call, Strome stated that the DPW workers had been redirected to the corner of Lafayette and Fifth and that they were there "now" clearing the snow in front of the driveway at the corner that if a person went there the DPW crew could be observed working there to clear a snow pile at that location.

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Multiple sources have told Talk of the Sound that there was a pile of snow in front of a driveway at the corner of Lafayette and Fifth and that the pile of snow was blocking or hindering access to the driveway on the corner. However, these sources all say that the snow on the corner was removed before work began at 26 Lafayette Avenue. This would contradict Strome's statement that the DPW crew had gone to the wrong location first but was later redirected to the correct location and that the crew was working at the location at the time of the call.

A different source with direct knowledge of the operation of the DPW snow removal crews but unaware of work being done at 26 Lafayette Avenue was monitoring the the DPW workers broadcasting over the assigned DPW radio band on Wednesday morning. The source says a DPW worker called dispatch to say "we're leaving Lafayette". A few moments later the same worker called back to dispatch saying "we're going back to Lafayette and you're not going to believe why!". No explanation of the cryptic comment was provided.

Roberto Lopez told Talk of the Sound that a man who works for him at the apartment building was asked by DPW workers at the parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue who owned the building. Lopez says the man refused to say and was challenged by the skeptical DPW workers who said "you work for the owner but you don't know who it is?" The man, Lopez says, refused to answer.

Lopez later arrived at the parking lot and spoke at length with Talk of the Sound as to the various issues that had arisen with the parking lot and stated that he had spent $100,000 to bring it into compliance with direction from the City of New Rochelle. He said that he would never ask for any sort of favor from anyone working for the City of New Rochelle and that given the problems he had over the parking lot he felt he was someone who was unlikely to get the benefit of any favors from the City even if he were to ask for them something he says he would never do.

During the initial telephone call to City Hall, Strome insisted that the workers on the site did not have "any idea who the owner of the lot was", a statement he repeated several times despite the question never having been asked. Asked whether the two supervisors on hand would know about the owner of 26 Lafayette, Strome said Joseph Cotroneo would not know who Roberto Lopez was because Cotroneo was new and Lopez was before his time. Strome did not address whether Joseph Quatrochi, a long-time DPW employee, would know who Roberto Lopez was but other sources found it improbable that Quatrochi would not know that Roberto Lopez was a former City Council member -- and potentially a future City Council member.

The parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue is well-known to many local residents, to City officials and the West End Task Force which fought with Lopez for years over the lot which was used illegally to park vehicles by renters living at 26 Lafayette. For this part, Lopez says that no one complained about the parking under the previous owner of the building and that the complaints were driven by something other than simple concerns about zoning. Lopez failed to elaborate.

It is the ongoing dispute over the parking lot with the City of New Rochelle and some West End residents that Roberto Lopez cites as the reason why no one from the City government would do him any sort of "favor" but that as a matter of his personal principles he would not make such a request. Lopez reiterated several times in the strongest terms that he did not know why the DPW was working at 26 Lafayette Avenue and that he had absolutely not made any request to that effect that snow be removed from or around his parking lot.

Whatever the reason, the DPW crew was present and working on private property. The problem from the taxpayer perspective goes beyond just the expense of using up City resources for private purposes. Talk of the Sound spoke with an experienced attorney from outside New Rochelle who said there are significant legal/liability issues with snow removal or any other work by city workers for a private commercial business. If a worker or equipment damages private property or a pedestrian the City will likely be used and could be held liable for property damage to the owner of the property and personal injury to the pedestrian. If a City worker gets injured and it is discovered that he was involved in this activity he will not be covered under the city's workers compensation policy since he is not engaged in work duties for his employer. The attorney notes that the practical effect of this reality is the workers know this and will "find" a work related assignment or a city road to "take a fall or fall down on the job" on and claim injury while engaged in work duties for the city and then will be eligible for workers compensation benefits and possibly disability all funded by taxpayers.

In subsequent follow up with the City Manager, Chuck Strome said he received a call the night before that a City plow had pushed a pile of snow in front of and blocking a driveway located at Lafayette and Fifth Street. Strome said it was he who asked DPW to send a crew to remove the pile from the street that was blocking the driveway entrance. This is not consistent with his initial statement to Talk of the Sound.

As to the confusion, Strome said an employee responsible for assigning crews was out sick on Wednesday and there was subsequent confusion as to the location of the pile.

Further, that DPW workers were removing snow from the street in front of the parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue and "inadvertently" pushed some snow to the back of the lot.

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In a subsequent email exchange, Strome said he sent the DPW crew to Lafayette and Fifth based on an anonymous call and said the question of who filed the complaint was "irrelevant".

At that corner, on the South side of the street, there are three parcels of land, two of which have houses and driveways that share a common driveway that empties onto the corner of Lafayette and Fifth. It would appear likely that any or all of these property owners might have called to complain about a pile of snow blocking the driveway which connects all of their properties but that does not appear to be the case.

Parcel 1287-0001 is owned by Regina de Masi. The street address of the house is #1 6th Street.

Parcel 1287-0031 is owned by Luis Beato. The street address is #4 5th Street.

Parcel 1283-01 is owned by Maria Sanchez. The street address is #62 Lafayette Avenue.

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Talk of the Sound has made contact with the occupants at two of the three locations and confirmed that a third was on vacation. This checks out because although 1283-01 overlaps with the driveway it is fenced off. There are three vans parked at 1287-0001 and 1287-0031 each ringed with snow which clearly indicates the vehicles have not been moved since the snow storm.

So, who called? And why did they want to remain anonymous?

At this point none of these stories are quite adding up, something is clearly wrong here but it is difficult to say what happened. One thing for sure -- this whole thing does not smell right and Talk of the Sound will continue to pursue the matter.

UPDATE: Talk of the Sound was contacted by one of the DPW employees working at 26 Lafayette Avenue. This employee says the lot was already done before the DPW crew arrived. In recounting the sequence of events from their perspective, the employee says he was told by Joe Controneo to go to Fifth and Lafayette to get two piles of snow. Once this work was completed, he left Lafayette Avenue and did other things around the City. Joe Controneo then told him "you gotta do the parking lot at Fifth and Lafayette". He responded by tell Controneo he was just there and there was no parking lot at Fifth and Lafayette (which is true). Controneo came to the scene and directed the men to do work at 26 Lafayette Avenue where there was a pile of snow in front of the driveway entrance to the parking lot. The snow was cleared from the area on the street in front of the parking lot and the front edge of the lot including a "back cut" to remove snow from the sidewalk. There was some snow still in the front edge of the parking lot which was scooped up by a DPW front-end loader. In attempting to back out of the driveway, the front-end loader encountered a car on Lafayette. Rather than wait for the card to pass, the front-end loader was driven forward, through the parking lot, and snow dumped on top of an existing pile of snow that had been pushed up towards the back of the parking lot.

As there is some concern that this story somehow reflects on the DPW workers, Talk of the Sound would like to be clear that workers are obligated to follow orders and do not independently make decisions on where to work including where to remove snow. In fact, DPW workers have gotten in trouble for filling potholes not on their list, potholes they encountered driving through the City on their way to fill in other potholes. The question is who gave the orders and by all accounts the orders were given by Joe Controneo. What remains to be determined is why he gave orders to clear snow at 26 Lafayette Avenue -- on his own initiative, on orders from his supervisors, at the request of a private citizen or some other source. This workers account does not clarify that question. It does, however, confirm, that the DPW was operating a vehicle on private property which carries it with some of the legal risks described above.

There are 17 Comments

So, let me get this straight, a city crew is cleaning snow from a former councilman’s [Roberto Lopez] income producing commercial property while the citizens in the west end can’t dig their cars out to get to work. When caught, Lopez denies that a city crew is cleaning his lot. City Manager Strome denies any knowledge of the crew at Lopez’s lot. Then Lopez admits the crew was there and working but not at his request while Strome “remembers” an “anonymous” complaint the night before which he directed DPW to clear. The following day “someone” was out sick and the replacement sent a DPW crew to the “wrong address”, which can’t be verified because Strome refuses to reveal the address from the “anonymous” phone call and then decides the original address is “irrelevant”.

To summarize a former and prospective 2012 councilman, Roberto Lopez, has snow cleaned from his commercial property by DPW workers and machinery and no one in the City Administration has any idea how and or why this happened.
Sounds like the Keystone Cops got caught with their pants down in a private snow cleaning enterprise blunder to me. Well at least we know how our tax dollars are being abused and why we may be terminating firefighters come June

OK !
Maybe it was a mistake ,maybe it was sombody doing a favor with tax dollars !

But guess what!!

They got busted!
And I don't think it is going to happen there again.
Now all we have to do is make sure it dosen't happen any place else!!

OOHH!!!!! and by the way, was this in any other news form?
Thank you Talk of the sound,for another eye opening articale.....

from the scanner a guy from DPW told 2 guys from DPW to come see something on Lafayette, he said over again when one of the guys said what was it.

so what was it? a non city plow push the snow from that lot in to the street, not across but into it. the 2 guys that just cleaned up the street then came and pushed the snow back it to the lot and went on there way

Robert Cox's picture

This is not what happened at all. You write like you are drunk. Go sleep it off.

Mr cox wrote: """Further, that DPW workers were removing snow from the street in front of the parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue and "inadvertently" pushed some snow to the back of the lot."""

And I was told what happen also, So now what make sense?

I'll believe what i was told, you can keep guessing.

I'm not drunk nor do i drink, I have bad grammar and some bad spelling skills as I have pointed out before. But smart people can read what I'm trying to say and deal with it, with out putting me down

Robert Cox's picture

The difference is that your words are not worth spit.

You quoted me writing:

"DPW workers were removing snow from the street in front of the parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue and "inadvertently" pushed some snow to the back of the lot."

My source for that information is City Manager Chuck Strome.

Who is your source?

Go back to sleep.

misinformation? Could be, but you have to ask, Why would the DPW guy say on his radio "your not going to believe this" twice. I'm to believe they went back to plow a lot, don't think so.

Or I'm I to believe they went back to push the back on to lot that was plowed in to the street.

ask, Why would the DPW guy say on his radio "your not going to believe this" twice.

kind of match up with what you said, but I'll believe my source as he's hands on, not like Mr Strome, that was not there!

Let’s stop the innuendo right here. An elected official witnessed a DPW administrator and workers removing snow from private property, which is owned by Roberto Lopez, a former city councilman. No one from the city administration can legitimately or rationally explain why this was taking place, hence the “wrong address” cover-up. As Rickey Ricardo would say, Lucy you have a lot of “splainin” to do!

Robert Cox's picture

First, we do not know who you are. There is no reason to attribute any particular value to anything you say because no one can evaluate your credibility. You provide no evidence of anything and have a habit of popping off with all sorts of unsubstantiated claims then insisting you are to be believed because of who you are and what you know.

Second, we do not know who you claim as a source or whether such a source even exists let alone the credibility of what you say is a source or whether you are accurately reporting what you say they said they heard someone else say.

This is the problem when people like you go online to make pseudonymous comments. You do not get to be both unknown and credible.

I have no idea why you are claiming that someone on the radio said "your not going to believe this" TWICE. That is not what I wrote. As I reported, it is what a source told me was said. There is no recording that I know of and my information is not first hand. More to the point, that reference in my article is a sidebar and hardly the main point of the article. That you choose to focus on it is telling. That you attribute something to me that I did not write and then claim that this somehow supports your point further discredits you, if that is possible.

You are welcome to believe what you want but you want to come onto Talk of the Sound and make unsupported, anonymous claims you can expect to be called on it.

As for some mystery person from some anonymous source, I might add that in addition to Chuck Strome I also spoke to Roberto Lopez. We both stood in front of the parking lot at 26 Lafayette Avenue. He told me that his lot had been cleared on the night of and the day after the storm. He never said anything he or a contractor working for him pushing snow into the street nor has anyone else including people who were on the scene as this happened.

Finally, as is often the case you never quite seem to have a point when you comment except to try to excuse some bad behavior or try to belittle some other commenter or otherwise make some sort of lame attempt to muddy the waters over this issue or that. To that extent you are just one more apologist who tries to come onto this site in a vain hope that truth will be obscured.

Try to focus on the facts.

There is no doubt that piles of snow were moved in front of, on and through the privately owned parking lot at 26 Lafayette. I have spoken with several eye-witnesses, I spoke with the City Manager and the owner of the property. I also went to the scene that day and observed the piles of snow pushed to the back and photographed them.

So, snow was certainly moved by the DPW on private property.

The only question is WHY this occurred.

Strome has said the crew was sent to Lafayette Avenue, initially that he did not know exactly where or why but later that he specifically sent them based on an anonymous phone call. His statements on this are contradictory.

I would add that I spoke to the occupants of the houses along Lafayette Avenue, starting with#62 and none of them called in to complain about a snow pile. There are two other parcels there. The owner of one said she did not call in a complaint and had not been out of her house since the storm. I observed that the vehicle in her fenced in driveway had not been moved since the storm. According to neighbors the other owner was away on vacation the entire time.

So, who called in a complaint about the corner of Lafayette and Fifth and why was a DPW crew working at 26 Lafayette.

Strome said that upon receiving a complaint he passed it along to DPW and that the crew was re-directed to the correct location at the corner of Lafayette and Fifth and that they were working there as he spoke (about 12:30 PM on Wednesday). This statement was false. Several sources have confirmed that there was a pile of snow at the corner of Lafayette and Fifth but that it has been removed before the work at 26 Lafayette was done by the DPW crew.

Robert Lopez says that he made no requests to anyone that the snow in and around his parking lot at 26 Lafayette be moved. When told that there were DPW workers in his lot he denied it and made several wild, accusatory accusations to the effect that it was all lies. He later admitted it was true.

To be clear, I do not think that Chuck Strome is lying only that he is passing along bad information. Something every similar occurred recently when he passed along as fact information he did not personally verify regarding Rolf Koehler. Instead of getting records and speaking directly to the person involved he appears to have relied on Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak who is a well-documented liar.

In this case, the person he appears to be relying upon is Joe Controneo. He was the senior person on the scene, directing the DPW crew. I do not know for sure what Controneo has said or not said but I would not take the word of any administrator in a department that is currently under investigation by the District Attorney for fraud, theft and misappropriation.

I expect that this entire matter will be the subject of a discussion at the next City Council meeting so while we may not be able to resolve these questions here I expect they will be resolved in the near future.

Mr Cox you believe what you want, and if I'm wrong i will bow out of your web site. Now get to the bottom of it and lets see what really happen

but let's get one thing clear, I have owned scanners for 25+ years, I did here the call for 2 guys to come see something that was unbelievable. It's what i wrote never said you said that

Never said Chuck Strome was lying just didn't know what was going on

Robert Cox's picture

You have now made two comments here that were, at best, very unclear and confusing. Maybe you ought to try and write more slowly, re-read your comments before publishing and generally try to make sure you are conveying to other people what you intend to convey rather than have to keep explaining what you meant.

If I have this right now, what you have been trying to say is that you ALSO heard what one of my sources heard about a DPW crew going back to Lafayette Avenue? Is that what you have been trying to say?

If so then I would welcome you ADDING to what my source on the scanner discussion told me.

Now, what you do not explain is how you get from your listening to the scanner to having some direct knowledge of what took place at 26 Lafayette.

In fact, I have not said that what went out over the scanner IS directly related to 26 Lafayette just that it is another piece to the puzzle.

That said, are you also try to say that having heard what went out over the scanner you then had a discussion with some member of the DPW crew and/or the DPW worker who was talking over the radio? If so, make that clear.

Bingo! but i did not want to bring in anyone from DPW it to this. After I asked a worker "what did you guys go and see that was unbelievable?", his reply was they had to go back to the street Lafayette and push back snow that was in the street just after it was cleaned.

I would more believe what he said over them plowing a private place by mistake.

Now from what he said and your story, I gather they went there and push the snow all the way to the back of the lot, becuase if they just pushed it back on to the lot it would block it, and that would be a double wrong!

I will ask again, as I have not seen him from that day

Robert Cox's picture

...I do not think we disagree. I think you are just over-extrapolating from what you were told and not asking a rather obvious question.

Chuck Strome says they were sent to Fifth and Lafayette. They did clear snow there. They did this BEFORE they were working at 26 Lafayette.

You say a DPW worker, presumably one of the 4 on the crew, says they had to go back to Lafayette. Which location? You don't say and it makes more than a bit of difference.

More to the point, if they were there and there means 26 Lafayette and the left and had to go back there that still does not explain why they were there in the first place. It can be both right? Or you could referring to their going back to the corner of Lafayette and Fifth not 26 Lafayette.

Even more to the point, if your source is one of the people who ordered the work to be done and you are not disclosing that than your comments are just an effort to cover for them. If you have friend at DPW who was involved in ordering a private lot to be cleared then you are just part of the cover up.

There is another question still; why were they over there at 26 Lafayette. Roberto Lopez was vehement in denying that he made any request of anyone regarding clearing snow at 26 Lafayette.

If he did not ask then who did and why would anyone other than him ask to clear his property?

If you can shed light on this fine but by trying to hide information or protect certain people you should damage your own credibility; so then do not be surprised if you are not believed.

One way or another, city workers were on private property moving around snow piles. They did not do that on their own initiative so who ordered them to do the work (that would appear to be Joe Controneo)? Why would Joe Controneo go to 26 Lafayette other than that he was asked. The bigger question is whether this was a favor, a political favor or a cash favor.

# 1 I don't even know the guy by name he comes in to my shop and if i did i would not tell anyone.

This is what happen...

I listen to the scanner and heard a DPW worker or foreman (don't know)witch one say "were going back to Lafayette and you not going to believe way"

Later that day (3) DPW workers came in my shop as they were paying me I asked "So what was so unbelievable on Lafayette.

one replied, We had to go back to the Lafayette and push back snow that was in the street just after it was cleaned.

Now you have me thinking the radio call and what was going on at 43 Lafayette are not the same.

He never said what # on Lafayette and the guy on the radio never said a # just Lafayette

so with this information go find out what really happen

Robert Cox's picture

"Three guys walk into my store..." That sounds more like a set up line for a joke than actual reporting.

So you want to treat as equal my reporting on this story -- talking to sources in the DPW, direct discussions with the City Manager Chuck Strome and members of the City Council, going to the scene shortly after the incident, meeting with Roberto Lopez at 26 Lafayette, speaking to residents living at the corner of Lafayette and Fifth, pulling up and reviewing public records from the New Rochelle property portal, taking extensive photos including photos of the snow piled up in the back of the lot at 26 Lafayette -- to a version of "three guys walk into a bar".

I do not know where you got 43 Lafayette from, maybe you can explain that, but you talk about three guys who you say work for the DPW but you do not know who they are, you do not know their names, you do not even know that they were present on Lafayette Avenue. In fact, you don't claim to really know anything other than a person responded to you saying "We had to go back to the Lafayette and push back snow that was in the street just after it was cleaned."

I would point out to you that the DPW crew was caught in the act plowing and shoveling snow at, in and around the lot at 26 Lafayette. Complaints were made to City Hall while they were on the scene and a call was made from City Hall to Joe Controneo telling him to leave the scene while his crew was there.

Does it occur to you that the person who spoke to you was not telling the truth?

For reasons you do not make clear, you ignore all of the reporting, much of it documented with emails, photographs, public records and interviews with eyewitnesses and accept a single statement from a single person you do not even know who has a rather obvious reason not to provide an honest response to your question. You don't even know if that person was there or actually knows anything and is just feeding you a line.

Someone involved in that exchange sought to explain the DPW operation at 26 Lafayette as a matter of a mix up where the crew was supposed to clear a pile of snow at the corner of Lafayette and Fifth, a pile of snow that had already been cleared. That's one.

Another is Roberto Lopez denying that any DPW crew was clearing his property when they were. That's two.

Another is no one knowing just why a DPW crew would be working at 26 Lafayette. That's three.

Now you have someone claiming that the reason the DPW crew went back to 26 Lafayette is because a private snow removal service pushed snow into the street despite a claim that is entirely unsupported and not offered by the two people who have the most to gain from that version being true -- City Manager Chuck Strome and property owner Roberto Lopez.

Let me just remind you that the New Rochelle DPW has been under active investigation by the Westchester DA in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011. That would be 9 out of the last 11 years. The offices of the DPW were raided by the DA just a few days ago and seized boxes of records pursuant to executing a search warrant. The feds are also looking at the DPW. There are stacks of phony invoices, vehicles and parts missing and a whole rat's nest of corruption that extends to Long Island, the Bronx, New Jersey and within the City of New Rochelle to the Board of Education and at least one other City department.

But by all means let's take their word for it. After all the administration of the DPW has such an impeccable record.

sorry meant 26

started in 2005 lopez left jan 2007 so wild joe does know lopez un like what ceo stroam says. mr.bob keep the heat on these guys untill one of then burst.

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