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Jury Finds for Widow in Body Armor Lawsuit

September 08, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A jury awarded the widow of a slain police officer $3.6 million Thursday because his protective vest failed to stop a bullet fired by an ex-convict during a traffic stop.

After five days of deliberation, the San Diego County Superior Court jury found that the vest makers failed to warn Oceanside Police Officer Anthony Zeppetella that the vest could fail because its synthetic fibers would degrade over time.

Zeppetella, 27, was shot June 13, 2003, after stopping Adrian Camacho, a drug addict and ex-convict.

Camacho has been convicted and sentenced to death.

The jury couldn't reach a verdict on whether the vest was defective. But jurors rejected the manufacturers' argument that the bullet pierced the vest because of the angle at which it was fired.

The angle that the defense attorneys insisted the bullet had traveled was different from the angle determined by detectives in Camacho's trial.

"That was something we went over a lot," said juror Camille Stern.

Juror Nancy Avila said she hopes the verdict sends a message. "We have to do better to keep our officers and military safe," she said. "Personally, I wanted to give her more."

Zeppetella was survived by his wife, Jamie, and a son, now 4. Second Chance Armor Inc., based in Michigan, and Japanese fiber-maker Toyobo Co. are liable for about $2.5 million of the $3.6 million in damages, and Camacho for the rest.

Evidence showed that the companies had known that the Zylon synthetic fibers degraded with age -- although lawyers for the companies insisted there was no evidence that Zeppetella's vest, which he had purchased for $950, had degraded.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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