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Flanders Road signs can stay after getting religious exemption

The sign will stay.

Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein on Friday dismissed code violation charges against Susan Tocci regarding a double-sided sign she posted on her lawn off Flanders Road in 2014.

The sign was placed on the property shortly after Ms. Tocci’s sister, Barbara, was killed in a Flanders Road crash in which Southampton Town Police said the other driver was texting and driving. That driver initially was charged with criminally negligent homicide, a charge that was later dismissed. 

The sign reads: “Save a Life. Do Not Text and Drive. Barbara Tocci 1966-2014.” On the other side of the sign is a picture of Barbara Tocci’s granddaughter, Kadence, whose mother, Hayley Riggins, died in a 2014 crash in California that involved an allegedly drugged driver.

It reads: “Kadence will grow up without her mom. Do not drive under the Influence. Hayley Riggins 1987-2014.”

Last year, the sign came under attack from the Bay View Pines Civic and Taxpayers Association, which sent many letters to the Southampton Town code enforcement office demanding that it be removed. 

The Tocci family staged a rally in support of the signs in July. Last week, they attached another piece to the original sign that quotes Psalm 147:3 from the Bible: “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” 

For that reason, according to Southampton officials, the sign qualified for a religious exemption. 

The addition, as well as the initial sign, were donated by Wedel Signs of Riverhead, Ms. Tocci said. 

On Friday, officials from both code enforcement and the town attorney’s office looked at the sign and told Ms. Tocci they saw no problem with it, she said.

The addition is only on the side of the sign with Barbara Tocci’s picture. 

Lorraine Paceleo, vice president of the Bay View Pines Civic and Taxpayers Association, said Tuesday that she was reporting alleged violations on behalf of the association, and noted that the group has identified many other issues around town besides the Tocci sign. 

She also spoke at the Aug. 10 Southampton Town Board meeting, where she criticized the town for revealing the source of the complaint. 

“I was the one attacked in the media and I’m still being crucified on Facebook because of what the town revealed,” she said. 

She continued: “For the town to disclose the source of complaints for those reporting violations cannot be tolerated. Our ability to question our government and hold them accountable in enforcing our laws is one of our most important rights as citizens and should be protected at all costs.”

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said there is a mechanism to make a complaint anonymously, although he questioned if the town would have to divulge the information if a Freedom of Information Act request is filed. 

“We want people to be able to share their concerns without fear of any kind of retribution,” he said. 

“When I’ve FOIL’d for information in the past, I’ve had personal information redacted,” Ms. Paceleo said. “I don’t know what happened here. There was a failure in the system.”

She said this wasn’t criminal matter, it was just a code violation. 

Some found comments Ms. Paceleo made in her complaints to the town — which Ms. Tocci obtained through a FOIL request — to be insensitive, such as asking: “Are we to live with this obnoxious sign forever?”