Prosecutor: PSEG driver was texting girlfriend before fatal crash

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | The driver of an SUV died in the Thursday morning crash on Route 24.
The two-car crash on Route 24. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file).

The 54-year-old PSEG driver arrested Saturday on a criminally negligent homicide charge in relation to the Flanders Road crash that killed a Hampton Bays woman last year was texting his girlfriend at the time, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Michael Pepe, 54, of Bayport, was having “an extended text message conversation with his girlfriend” in the time leading up to the Jan. 16, 2014 crash that killed Barbara Tocci, 47, Assistant District Attorney Shaun McCready said at Mr. Pepe’s arraignment Tuesday at First District Court in Central Islip.

Ms. Tocci was driving a 2000 Ford Explorer north on Flanders Road near Spinney Road when she was struck by Mr. Pepe’s southbound Public Service Enterprise Group utility truckSouthampton Town police had said after the crash.

He is now being charged with criminally negligent homicide, a Class C felony, as well as misdemeanor reckless driving and an additional traffic infraction.

During his appearance before Justice Fernando Camacho on Tuesday, Mr. McCready said Mr. Pepe had crossed two southbound lanes of traffic on Flanders Road (Route 24) before crashing into Ms. Tocci head on.

Southampton Town police last year said potholes in the area of the Flanders Road crash had also played a role in the accident. State Department of Transportation officials have since repaved portions of the road, which is set to be completed this spring.

Mr. Pepe’s Legal Aid defense attorney said he has “fully cooperated” with authorities, and has made multiple statements over the course of the grand jury investigation. The attorney asked on Tuesday that bail be reduced from the $100,000 cash or bond set during an initial appearance Monday at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverside.

Judge Camacho upheld the $100,000 in bail after asking members of his family present in court if they would be able to post it on Mr. Pepe’s behalf.

“I’m relieved to see the district attorney has finally made a move on this case,” said Susan Tocci, Barbara’s sister, outside the courtroom Tuesday. “The evidence was there the whole time. He is a professional driver, he holds a [commercial driver’s license], and he should be held to that standard.”

Tuesday afternoon was the first time members of the Tocci family had the opportunity to see Mr. Pepe, Ms. Tocci said.

“It is really nerve-wracking,” he said.

She and several members of the Tocci family — including her father, Philip, and two brothers, Philip and Paul — were seen sitting in court, some wearing purple attire and pins displaying Barbara’s photograph.

It was the same picture family members used for a public service announcement billboard they’ve been displaying on Flanders Road ever since the crash.

Members of the Pepe family declined to comment on the case, saying only that it was very unfortunate and they were worried about Mr. Pepe.

Mr. Pepe was released on bail shortly after his afternoon court appearance.

He’s due back in the Central Islip court March 3.

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