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SWANNANOA, N.C. (AP) -- State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who this week stepped down as minority leader because of illness, has died. He was 67.

Senate Democratic Caucus Director Ford Porter said Nesbitt died Thursday after being diagnosed last week with stomach cancer.

It was on Wednesday that a group of well-wishers lined a road near Interstate 40 to welcome the Asheville lawmaker home. He arrived back home in an ambulance.

Nesbitt had served in the Legislature since the early 1980s. He became majority leader in 2009 when Democrats controlled the Senate and after Sen. Tony Rand left the Legislature. He became minority leader in 2011 when Republicans took over the chamber.

A statement from the state Democratic Party said North Carolina has lost a leader and champion of exemplary and distinguished public service.

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