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Tobacco plaintiff dies from cancer

Angie Della Vecchia of New Port Richey was scheduled to take the witness stand in a landmark class-action tobacco case next month and tell jurors about how 40 years of smoking left her bedridden with cancer.

She never got the chance. Della Vecchia, 53 and the mother of two, died late last month.

Her death came 2{ weeks after a Miami jury decided cigarette makers should have to pay punitive damages for making a defective, disease-causing product. The lawsuit could eventually force tobacco companies to compensate as many as 500,000 Florida smokers.

Della Vecchia, a homemaker, was one of the lead plaintiffs.

Della Vecchia's husband, Ralph, declined to comment on the case because a judge has placed him and the other participants under a gag order.

The Della Vecchias met at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, N.Y. He worked at the Red Garter saloon in the Wisconsin pavilion. She rarely drank but walked into the bar and caught his eye.

"She was a beautiful woman," Ralph Della Vecchia said Thursday. "Good looking."

The two dated for five years and later married. When their first child arrived, Angie Della Vecchia quit her job at a Manhattan bank and became a full-time mother. Her husband worked as a code enforcement officer until the couple moved to Pasco 15 years ago.

Angie Della Vecchia was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago and had surgery.

"We thought she was clean," Ralph said.

Despite the surgery, Angie Della Vecchia continued smoking.

She didn't quit until last Aug. 18, a date that will stick in Ralph Della Vecchia's mind forever.

That was the day his wife had a seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer.

"She was a battler," Ralph Della Vecchia said tearfully. "She had an operation. She had radiation. We did everything we could, but it was still growing."

Despite the contentious atmosphere surrounding the tobacco litigation, Ralph Della Vecchia said his wife was a Christian woman with a kind heart.

"She never said a bad word about anyone," he said.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.