Family erects roadside reminder in memory of lost loved ones

A sign on Route 24 warns drivers of the dangers of texting and driving following the death of Barbara Tocci on the road earlier this year. (Credit: Carrie Miller)
A sign on Route 24 warns drivers of the dangers of texting and driving following the death of Barbara Tocci on the road earlier this year. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

It might be a common refrain, and it might make common sense. But one Flanders family — quite understandably — wants you to know not to text and drive, and not to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

In the wake of two fatal accidents earlier this year that killed two of her family members on the roads, Susan Tocci of Flanders has erected a double-sided sign on her Flanders Road property that has a picture of her sister, Barbara Tocci on one side, with the words “Save a Life: Do Not Text and Drive. Barbara Tocci 1966-2014.”

Barbara was killed in a Jan. 16 collision with a PSEG-Long Island utility truck that crossed two lanes of traffic on Flanders Road and hit her head-on.

The driver of the truck, Michael Pepe, 53, of Bayport, was not issued any summonses at the time of the crash. However, that could change, officials said.

“Through our investigation, we concluded that cell phone use was a contributing factor to the crash,” said Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa of the Southampton Town Police on Wednesday.

“Once our investigation is concluded, we will work in conjunction with the district attorney’s office to bring any appropriate charges that have resulted from the motor vehicle accident,” Sgt. Costa said. “That should happen within the next couple of weeks.”

Sgt. Costa said the pot holes on Flanders Road at the time, which Mr. Pepe had told police led to the accident, also were a contributing factor.

Sue Tocci said the decision to erect the signs came just as she had finally received the police accident report, which was only issued in April, and at a time when friends of Mr. Pepe have been trying to contact her family to say he did nothing wrong and was very sorry about what happened.

“This guy has all of his friends keep approaching me and my family saying that he feels so bad about it and he wasn’t doing doing anything wrong and he wasn’t using his phone at all. He’s outright lying,” Sue Tocci said, citing the police report.

Barbara Tocci was remembered by her brother Scott as “always there” for the family.

“She took care of everybody,” her brother Scott said at the time. “That’s how she was … If there’s any person that would make me strive to be a better person, it was Barbara.”

As for the lawn signs, Sue said, “It’s been a long, long time coming. We’ve known for a while that he had been texting. The pothole was a big huge problem, without a doubt, but it doesn’t look like when he hit that pothole, he had control of that truck at all.”

Sue Tocci is a former chief of the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance and said she’s seen many accident scenes.

“We got the town accident report in April. It doesn’t specifically say he was texting but it says the use of a handheld device was a contributing factor,” she said.

The other side of the lawn sign on Ms. Tocci’s property says “Kadence will grow up without her mom. Do not drive under the influence. Hayley Riggins 1987-2014”

Hayley Riggins was the fiancé of Barbara’s son, and she was killed in an April 24 accident in Redding, California in which the motorcycle she was riding was hit by a car driven by a woman who ran a red light and was charged with driving under the influence of drugs.

Ms. Riggins was taken off life support on April 30, leaving behind her 10-month-old daughter Kadence, and her fiancé Tom Podlas.

“My nephew lost his mother and his fiancé in three and a half months,” Sue Tocci said. “All because of somebody else’s wrongdoings.”

The other driver, Virginia Anderson, 53, of Redding, admitted using methamphetamine at the time and was a repeat offender, according to police reports. Despite that, a judge last ruled that there was not enough evidence to charge her with second-degree murder.

The lawn signs went up last Thursday, just before July 4th.

“I want people to see the signs as they drive by. That’s why I put them up, and Fourth of July weekend is a great time to put them up because there are a lot of people drinking and driving then,” Sue Tocci said.

“I’m hoping it will make people think twice before they drink and drive, that’s why I’m doing it. And maybe it will save a life.”

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