Updated, 12/29/10 : Sweet, colorful, charming and cheerful: These are some of the words residents at 5 Canal St. in Westport used to describe Cindy D'Aiuto , who was found dead Tuesday morning in the rear parking lot of 166 Kings Highway N., about a five-minute walk from her home.
"She was kind as can be, never said a bad word," said Simone Neri-Riley, who lives at the Westport Housing Authority complex with her grandfather. "She was just at our house a couple nights ago, and she was so excited to be seeing her family for Christmas."
In a store-bought Christmas card to Neri-Riley and her 99-year-old grandfather, D'Aiuto wrote, Much love to Simone and Grandppy! The card featured an image of the Three Kings in gold with the words "Love," "Peace," Hope," underneath on the front.
An autopsy performed Wednesday morning showed D'Aiuto died of hypothermia. Her body was found in the snow by a newspaper carrier Tuesday morning around 6:30. Her death was ruled accidental on Wednesday.
Neri-Riley, who has been friends with D'Aiuto for five years, fought to hold back her tears as she talked Tuesday. But no matter how hard Neri-Riley tried, she couldn't help but cry, especially when she remembered the last time she saw D'Aiuto, 48.
According to Neri-Riley, D'Aiuto had recently broken up with a boyfriend. When she came to visit the night before Christmas Eve, Neri-Riley told D'Aiuto she was proud of her.
"I told her God had something special planned for her because she was so beautiful and kind," Neri-Riley said as her voice broke. "She was always shocked when I told her she was beautiful and always so thankful. I'm glad I got to hug her that night."
Neri-Riley said D'Aiuto has children and grandchildren. D'Aiuto lived alone, didn't work, owned cats and a dog, and was prone to seizures, she added.
Neighbors Bob Gaines and Sophie Barnes, who shared a toast in honor of D'Aiuto on Tuesday night, said they were saddened and shocked by the news of her death.
"She was colorful, but not loud or intrusive," Barnes said. "She was a free spirit who liked to laugh."
Gaines and Barnes, who are familiar with D'Aiuto's medical condition, wondered whether it could have led to her death. "It's conceivable this could have been an unfortunate accident," Gaines said. "She could have wondered out [of her home] in a daze and collapsed."
But Neri-Riley said she didn't know D'Aiuto to wander. "That doesn't sound like something Cindy would do."
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