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Grand jury to hear case in fatal Levittown crash

Nassau County police investigate the scene of a

Nassau County police investigate the scene of a accident on Hempstead Turnpike and Gardiners Avenue in Levittown Tuesday morning, April 22, 2014. Credit: Jim Staubitser

A Levittown man soon could be facing upgraded criminal charges following his driving while intoxicated arrest in connection with a crash that killed an 81-year-old man.

The prosecution will present evidence in the case involving defendant James Taggart Jr. to a grand jury, Nassau Assistant District Attorney Katie Zizza told a judge Wednesday.

Grand jurors are expected to hear the case by early September and could choose to vote for a felony indictment. Taggart is charged with a misdemeanor.

Police said previously that they arrested Taggart, 43, shortly after his car struck and killed Bethpage resident Robert Chapman Sr. as Chapman tried to cross Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown early on April 22.

Chapman was said to be on his way to work at a nearby King Kullen, where he stocked shelves and bagged groceries. Police have said he was crossing the street in an area without a crosswalk after getting off a bus.

Taggart, a sheet metal worker and Navy veteran who is a married father of four, previously pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor count against him and has been free after posting $7,500 bail.

His attorney, William Petrillo of Garden City, told District Court Judge Andrea Phoenix on Wednesday that he wanted the grand jury to hear about any evidence considered favorable to the accused.

Petrillo said the evidence includes that one police official involved in the case said he believed Taggart was sober. He said another police official said at first that he didn't smell alcohol on Taggart's breath, before saying in a later interview that he had smelled alcohol while transporting Taggart in a car.

The defense lawyer said after court that his client was not intoxicated during the crash, and that he called 911 and tried to help Chapman at the scene.

"In this instance, there was an unavoidable car accident which took place on one of the most dangerous roadways in the country and there's no criminality involved," Petrillo said.

Family members of Chapman who were in court left without commenting, and a district attorney's office spokesman declined to comment later.

Authorities also have been investigating whether the defendant's sister, an attorney for the Nassau police force, interfered by interacting with people after coming to the crash scene. A police spokesman said Wednesday that the internal affairs probe involving Karen Taggart was still active.

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