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WASHINGTON -- A witness in the government's trial against the tobacco industry died Wednesday evening after becoming ill on the stand, reported the Associated Press.
Altria Group Inc. spokeswoman Dawn Schneider said Donald Hoel suffered an aortic aneurysm. "It is with much sadness that we report Mr. Hoel died today at Washington Hospital Center. Our attention and thoughts and prayers now turn to his family," Schneider said.
Hoel's son, John, works in the Washington office of Altria, the parent company of leading cigarette maker Philip Morris USA. Hoel, 72, became pale and nodded his head while testifying. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler asked him if he was all right.
"I don't feel very well," said Hoel, who also said he felt lightheaded.
Hoel is a retired tobacco industry lawyer who was testifying about industry-funded research into secondhand smoke. A nurse affiliated with the court examined Hoel in the courtroom, and emergency responders arrived within about a half hour after he became ill. He was then taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he underwent surgery and died around 5 p.m.
Hoel appeared conscious as he was taken out of the court. Earlier, he said under questioning that he was not taking any medication except for antihistamines.
An aortic aneurysm is a weakening of the wall of the aorta, which carries blood from the heart.
The Justice Department is suing the tobacco industry under civil racketeering laws. The government alleges the industry deceived the public for decades about the hazards of smoking.