After fatal collision, grief and remembrance

Survivor: A Conowingo farmer tries to cope after a car crash that killed his wife.

November 16, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

Pam Pahl, a Baltimore County farmer, would often go to the Baltimore Farmers' Market on Sunday morning and get a hug from Daphine Gizzi.

Gizzi, who was called the Peach Lady, would leave her husband, Leo Gizzi, to man the Conowingo Orchard stand at the market while she cheered up Pahl with a hug or helped grill beef at another stand.

"They were just very sweet people," Pahl said.

"Daphine would come up to me and say, `It looks like you need a hug, Pam,' and she'd give me this big hug."

Oct. 26 was supposed to be the second-to-last weekend that the Gizzis would sell produce at the Baltimore Farmers' Market. When no one arrived from Conowingo Orchards to the farmers' market that day, the farmers, many of whom have known the Gizzis for several years, became concerned.

About 4:30 a.m. that day, Leo Gizzi, 64, was driving his wife, granddaughter Samantha Nesbitt, and his granddaughter's friend Janet Hardy, both 14, around a curve on U.S. 40 through the fog when a 2003 GMC Sonoma pickup truck veered into his lane. The vehicle hit the Gizzis' Ford box truck head-on, according to the police report. Matthew R. Caine, 26, the driver of the pickup, Daphine Gizzi, 55, and Hardy were pronounced dead at the scene.

"It took a tenth of a second to take all that away from me," Leo Gizzi said, surrounded by his wife's tea kettle collection, handmade quilts, pictures and a certificate of appreciation from when she served on jury duty.

"I didn't even know they gave those out," he said of the certificate addressed to Naomi Gizzi - Daphine, which she preferred to be called, was her middle name. "She was just an exceptional woman," he said.

The Gizzis were fixtures of the Baltimore Farmers' Markets and invited Hardy and Nesbitt, both freshmen at Perryville High School, to go with them that day. The girls left a Saturday night Halloween party early so they could go to the farmers' market the next day.

Gizzi remembers seeing the lights of the oncoming truck and pulling Samantha's head under his arm. He couldn't reach the other two passengers. Gizzi said his vehicle was thrown back 10 feet by the collision - he doesn't know how he or his granddaughter survived.

Nesbitt, the eldest of the Gizzis' 11 grandchildren, broke her right femur, her left ankle and fractured her pelvis. Doctors have instructed her to stay in bed or a wheelchair until her injuries heal.

Leo Gizzi broke bones in his legs.

"The bruises are going to heal, but he feels responsible," said Christine Nesbitt, Leo Gizzi's daughter and Samantha's mother.

Gizzi does, in a way, blame himself for the accident. But he says: "There was nothing that I could do to prevent it. That's the part that really eats at me. I wish it was me; I feel that she had a lot more to contribute than me."

Leo Gizzi and Daphine Bedard married in 1985. Both had two children from previous marriages and were raised on farms. Daphine kept the books at the 72-acre orchards and also helped with the daily operations there.

But most of all, she enjoyed talking with farmers and customers at the farmers' market, her husband said.

Daphine Gizzi also worked as a secretary. But farming was the family's livelihood.

She would pick up her grandchildren from school and watch them for her children, all of whom live in Cecil County.

She loved to spoil her family with Christmas presents and homemade treats. Samantha Nesbitt treasures a hand-stitched Dutch-Doll quilt her grandmother made for her, Gizzi said.

Memories of his wife around the house are still fresh for Leo Gizzi. He walked to the window in his living room where she used to sit sewing quilts. To his left sat the piano she would play.

His first wife died of cancer after 18 years of marriage, the same length of time he was married to Daphine.

"It's as if God just says, `Hey, that's enough,' after 18 years."

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