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Son of fatal DWI victim: A loss that 'is beyond words'

Undated photo of Robert Chapman Sr. of Bethpage

Undated photo of Robert Chapman Sr. of Bethpage who was fatally struck in 2014 by car driven by James Taggart Jr. who'd been driving drunk. Credit: handout

The son of an 81-year-old who lost his life in a 2014 Levittown drunk-driving crash on Thursday told the man responsible for his father’s death that his family “is forever broken,” and coping with a loss that “is beyond words.”

Authorities have said Robert Chapman Sr. of Bethpage was crossing Hempstead Turnpike on the way to his job stocking shelves at a King Kullen in the early morning of April 22, 2014, when James Taggart Jr. fatally struck the man with his car.

Taggart, 46, of Levittown, pleaded guilty in August to second-degree vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving.

State Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti Thursday sentenced the Navy veteran, sheet metal worker and father of four to a year behind bars and 5 years of probation. Taggart then surrendered in Nassau County Court to begin serving his jail term.

“We all have free will in the decisions we make on a daily basis,” Robert Chapman Jr., the victim’s son, said during the hearing. “Mr. Taggart’s choice to get behind the wheel of his car under the influence of alcohol caused irreparable, life-altering, unforgiving damage ... People are never replaceable.”

Chapman Jr., 53, of Nesconset, described his father as a healthy, spry senior citizen with a zest for life who didn’t need to work, but took pleasure in it because of the interactions he had with colleagues and customers. He said Taggart had robbed the Chapman family of sharing with his father the holidays and milestones that now have included the high school graduations and proms of the victim’s two oldest grandchildren.

“Dad had so much life left to live,” the victim’s son said.

Defense attorney William Petrillo faced the Chapman family and assured them his client’s remorse was real.

“This is a tortured man, for you, not himself,” the Garden City lawyer said.

Taggart then stood and said he had been truly sorry since the day of the crash.

“I pray every day for your family,” he told the Chapmans. “I cannot imagine the pain and suffering your family is going through.”

Assistant District Attorney Katie Zizza told the judge her office hoped the time Taggart spends away from his family will be a constant reminder of the tragic consequences of his action.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said later in a prepared statement that Taggart’s decision to drive drunk “cost an innocent, 81-year-old man his life, and Nassau’s roads will be safer while he is behind bars.”

Authorities also investigated after the crash to make sure Taggart’s sister, Karen Taggart, a county employee and attorney for Nassau’s police department, didn’t interfere at the crash scene where police arrested her brother.

The police department didn’t provide information after an inquiry Thursday about the status of that internal affairs probe.

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