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Officer's Widow Sues Protective Vest Firm

She alleges that the garment contained defective material and the company knew it.

November 26, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The widow and young son of an Oceanside police officer shot to death after a routine traffic stop filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that he died because his protective vest was defective and allowed three bullets to hit him.

The lawsuit, filed in Vista Superior Court, alleges that Michigan-based Second Chance Body Armor Inc. knew that the Japanese-made material used in the vest was defective, but "in a rush for market share and profits" allowed the vest to be shipped to stores.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for Jamie Zeppetella, 25, the widow of slain officer Tony Zeppetella, and their son, Jakob, now 11 months old.

Zeppetella, 27, a rookie officer, died June 13 after being shot several times while making a routine traffic stop. Adrian Camacho, 28, a parolee with a history of drug use and mental illness, was arrested within hours and now could face the death penalty. His trial is set for August.

Second Chance officials referred telephone callers to a spokesman who was unavailable despite repeated calls.

L.A. attorney Gregory S. Emerson said Zeppetella bought the vest for $950 in October 2002 because it promised greater protection than the vest issued by the department.

The lawsuit alleges that Second Chance has known since at least 1998 that the material called Zylon quickly deteriorates with age. Three bullets went through the vest and struck Zeppetella, Emerson said.

"The survivability of that first shot was basically zero," said Emerson, whose firm, Harrington, Foxx, Dubrow & Canter in Los Angeles, represents the Oceanside Police Officers Assn.

Second Chance, which markets a line of gear for police officers, faces other legal action relating to its Zylon vests.

Under pressure from Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice last week launched a review of the Second Chance vests. Also last week, the Massachusetts attorney general filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Second Chance from selling the vests in Massachusetts, and the Arizona attorney general filed a lawsuit seeking refunds for Arizona officers who purchased the vests.

When the Department of Justice probe was announced, Second Chance President Paul Banducci issued a statement that called the review "the right thing to do" and noted that in September his company had offered to upgrade or replace protective vests made of Zylon.

In October, the L.A. Police Department announced it was replacing the Second Chance vests worn by its officers.

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