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Prosecutor: PSEG worker was texting before 2014 Flanders crash that killed woman

A billboard sign on Flanders Road shows Barbara

A billboard sign on Flanders Road shows Barbara Ann Tocci near where she was killed in a accident involving Michael Pepe, 54, of Bayport, who was arraigned on a criminal negligent homicide charge at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Central Islip on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Credit: Tocci family

A PSEG Long Island worker was texting his girlfriend as his utility truck crossed into oncoming traffic and killed a Hampton Bays woman last year, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Michael Pepe, 54, of Bayport, who still works for the utility, faces criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving charges in connection with the Jan. 16, 2014, Flanders crash that killed Barbara Ann Tocci, 47, of Hampton Bays, prosecutors said.

A Suffolk grand jury indicted Pepe last month, according to court papers. Pepe's Legal Aid attorney entered a not-guilty plea Tuesday at his arraignment in Suffolk County Court in Central Islip. Bail was set at $100,000.

"It's been a long time coming," said Tocci's sister, Susan, 46, of Flanders. "Our family is very happy that he's finally going to be held accountable for texting and driving."

Southampton Town police said Pepe's 2005 PSEG truck slammed into Tocci's SUV just before 8 a.m. on Flanders Road near Spinney Road. Tocci, who was on her way to work, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Susan Tocci said her sister's death, as well as another family tragedy months later, spurred relatives to wage a campaign against distracted driving and driving under the influence.

Barbara Tocci's death also cut short a life spent helping others, family said. After the crash, groceries for her boss, who had suffered a stroke, were scattered on the roadway, her sister said.

In honor of Barbara Tocci's kind nature, her family has passed out cards in the community with her picture, encouraging people to surprise others with kindness, her sister said.

In April, the fiancee of Barbara Tocci's oldest son was killed riding a motorcycle in California. Police said a driver under the influence of drugs ran a red light and hit Hayley Riggins, according to Susan Tocci and media reports. Riggins, 27, and Tocci's son, Thomas Podlas, had a 10-month-old daughter, Kadence, Susan Tocci said.

Both tragedies led Susan Tocci to place a cautionary billboard on her Flanders Road property just before the July Fourth weekend, not far from where her sister died.

One side reads: "Save a Life. DO NOT TEXT & DRIVE," next to Barbara Tocci's smiling face.

The other side shows Riggins touching noses with Kadence. It reads: "Kadence will grow up WITHOUT HER MOTHER. DO NOT DRIVE UNDER THE INFLUENCE."

"Those signs are not coming down anytime soon," Susan Tocci said. "If one family doesn't have to go through what we're going through, that makes a difference."

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