The driver of the PSEG utility truck involved in the fatal head-on collision on Flanders Road Jan. 16, 2014 has been indicted on charges of criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving.

Michael J. Pepe, 54, of Bayport, is being held on $100,000 bail following his appearance today in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead, according to online court records.

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Barbara Tocci

Pepe’s GMC southbound utility truck crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic on Flanders Road and hit an SUV driven by Barbara Tocci, 47, of Hampton Bays head-on. Tocci, who has on her way to work in Riverhead, was killed in the crash.

Pepe told investigating officers he hit a pothole in the road and lost control of his vehicle, according to the police accident report. The report lists “defective pavement” and use of a hand-held cell phone as contributing factors.

Criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison. Under N.Y. state penal law, a person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person.

“My family and I are relieved that Mr. Pepe is finally being required to take responsibility for texting while operating a commercial motor vehicle, a decision that cost my beautiful sister Barbara her life,” Susan Tocci said.

While the police accident report does not specify whether Pepe was talking or texting on a hand-held cell phone at about the time of the crash, Susan Tocci says an investigator with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office told the victim’s family investigators found evidence that the utility company worker was texting on his personal cell phone prior to the accident.

Pepe is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow before Judge Fernando Camacho in Central Islip.

An outcry by family, friends and community members about the condition of the road led to the state DOT beginning a complete repaving project of Flanders Road (SR 24) last fall.

 

Editor’s note: A criminal charge is an accusation. By law, a person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.