September 11, 2006
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Jury awards Calif. police widow $3.6M for failed bulletproof vest

The Associated Press

A jury has awarded $3.6 million in damages to the widow of a rookie police officer who was shot and killed while wearing a bulletproof vest.

The jury found that Second Chance Body Armor Inc., the maker of the vest, and Toyobo Co. Ltd., the Japanese company that supplied the vest's synthetic fibers, were liable for Tony Zeppetella's death because they failed to warn users the vests could deteriorate over time.

The vest was marketed as bullet-resistant.

Zeppetella, 27, died in June 2003 when he was shot 13 times after pulling Adrian Camacho over for a routine traffic stop in Oceanside, Calif. Thirty-four rounds were exchanged before Camacho, a Mexican citizen who was in the U.S. illegally, fled in Zeppetella's squad car.

Camacho was sentenced to death in February for the killing.

Widow Jamie Zeppetella sued the vest's makers in November 2003. She claimed her husband would have survived if the body armor had performed as advertised.

More than a dozen lawsuits were filed by state and federal agencies against Michigan-based Second Chance Body Armor, which recalled some vests in 2003 after questions arose about the durability of their Zylon fiber cores.

A two-year study by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded in 2005 that Zylon, the synthetic material used in the vests, could be penetrated by bullets.

The company, once the nation's top producer of soft, concealable body armor for police, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004.

Toyobo, Zylon's Japanese producer, has acknowledged the fiber may lose up to 20 percent of its strength within two years.

Last year, the company agreed to pay $29 million to settle a class-action suit by police officers and departments across the country that used the Second Chance vests.

Zeppetella's family received a $165,000 settlement in 2005 from the Oakland, Calif., firm that sold the vest. The company, Professional Police Supply, Inc., did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement.

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