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Man in fatal Flanders crash will do community service to clear charges

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, file)

A Bayport man involved in a head-on car crash that killed a Flanders woman in January 2014 will have all charges related to the crash dropped after completing 140 hours of community service, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

As part of his disposition Tuesday, Michael Pepe will have two lesser charges dropped once he completes community service at “anti-distracted-driving efforts through M.A.D.D., local government agencies, and at local schools” for a misdemeanor reckless driving charge, Mr. Clifford said.

Mr. Pepe was driving a PSEG truck at the time of the accident on Jan. 16 when his vehicle crossed over the double yellow line on Flanders road and struck Barbara Tocci’s vehicle, killing her.

In court Tuesday, Supreme Court Judge Fernando Camacho said the result was “fair and reasonable.” 

But Ms. Tocci’s sister, Susan, said her family saw the outcome as anything but that.

“My family does not think this is fair by any means,” she said. “That’s a joke. I don’t think this is fair. Who thinks this is fair? … He got off real easy and it’s unfortunate. My sister’s life is worth more than 140 hours of community service.”

Mr. Pepe was originally indicted on a felony charge of criminally negligent homicide for his role in the crash after prosecutors alleged he was texting his girlfriend at the time of the crash. But last August, State Supreme Court Judge Fernando Camacho dismissed the felony charge

Authorities said evidence showed Mr. Pepe had sent and opened a series of text messages between 7:28 and 7:53 a.m., but the 911 call reporting the accident was made at 7:57 a.m. Mr. Camacho said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mr. Pepe was using his phone at the moment of the crash and overturned the indictment. 

Mr. Pepe had claimed potholes in the roadway caused the crash, according to Robert Clifford, a district attorney spokesman.

Mr. Pepe is due back in court Sept. 20. His attorney, Steven Epstein of Garden City, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Ms. Tocci said she wasn’t convinced Mr. Pepe was genuinely ready to teach students not to text and drive, since he never admitted to texting at the time of the crash.

“I find it ironic that you’re going to send him out to speak to teenagers at a high school to convince them not to text and drive when he’s not even admitting it,” she said.

Ms. Tocci built a billboard on her Flanders Road property showing her sister’s face and a warning not to text and drive. She said some have already approached her and said they won’t text and drive because of what happened to the Toccis.

“It will wreck your family,” she said. You will never be the same ever. No holiday, no birthday, nothing will ever be the same once you lose that person. You don’t want to live with that, that you did that to some other family.”

Ms. Tocci said the family has no recourse against the decision and must “move on from here.”

“It wasn’t an easy day today,” she said.

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