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Jan 20, 2014 3:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Woman Killed In Head-On Collision On Flanders Road, Police Still Investigating Cause Of Crash

Jan 22, 2014 8:58 AM

A Hampton Bays woman died last Thursday morning, January 16, after a utility truck struck her vehicle head-on on Flanders Road, killing the 47-year-old grandmother of three and raising fears that the condition of the mostly two-lane highway was to blame for the accident.

Barbara Tocci was driving northbound on Flanders Road in a black 2000 Ford Explorer at around 8 a.m. when a Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) utility truck, driven by Michael Pepe, 53, of Bayport, crossed into the oncoming lane and struck her vehicle head-on near the intersection of Spinney Road, according to Southampton Town Police.

Town Police detectives said immediately following the fatal two-vehicle crash that they were investigating whether the surface of Flanders Road, which is owned by the state and riddled with potholes, contributed to the accident.

Detectives did not immediately return calls on Monday seeking additional information regarding the investigation.

PSEG employees on scene shortly after the crash, and who declined to give their names, said Mr. Pepe’s truck struck a pothole, which caused it to cross into the northbound lane.

On Wednesday, PSEG issued the following statement regarding the accident: “We take the safety of our employees and the public very seriously and will review the circumstances of this incident once all the facts are known. We are deeply saddened by the incident and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends affected by this loss.”

State Department of Transportation (DOT) crews were on scene shortly after last Thursday’s crash, filling in potholes along the highway. In a statement, DOT officials said they were “saddened by the news of the fatality” and would coordinate with police and take appropriate action.

Ms. Tocci was pronounced dead at the scene, and volunteers with the Flanders Fire Department had to extricate her body from the SUV, which sustained heavy front-end damage.

Ms. Tocci’s brother, Paul Tocci, said Tuesday that some potholes along Flanders Road were left unrepaired, even after the accident that claimed his sister’s life.

“I guess they’re going to wait for a tragedy on those holes to fix them,” he said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s terrible.”

A Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance transported Mr. Pepe to the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said. Authorities said they did not expect to file criminal charges against Mr. Pepe.

Flanders Road was closed for several hours as detectives investigated the scene.

Eileen Peters, a spokeswoman for the DOT, said the agency’s Long Island office has spent 40 percent more so far this winter to repair potholes than it did at this point last winter.

“The relatively early cold temperatures and the fluctuating hot-cold temperatures so far this winter have caused more frequent freeze/thaw cycles, which is what creates potholes,” Ms. Peters wrote in an email. “Keeping the roads safe is NYSDOT’s highest priority, so any and all feasible measures are be taken to continue pothole repairs.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele said last week that he sent a letter to the DOT in June inquiring about possible resurfacing on Flanders Road, also known as State Route 24, after he received complaints from constituents. The road was last repaved in 2003, he said.

“I’ve been on the road in the past couple of days,” Mr. Thiele said. “I certainly can speak to the fact that it is in need of some work.”

The challenge, he explained, is securing the estimated $10 million to $12 million needed to repave the highway. In March, he announced that the DOT had agreed to spend some $12.53 million—a combination of state and federal funds—to repave the 10-mile stretch of Montauk Highway between Southampton and East Hampton.

“We struggled with getting the money set aside for [Montauk Highway], which hasn’t been repaved in over 15 years,” he said. “We were banging our heads against the wall.”

Ms. Peters said there is no repaving project currently scheduled for Flanders Road. She also explained that the temperatures prevent the DOT from paving in the winter months.

“You can repair the potholes now, but all we need is another freeze and another warm-up, and we’ll be right back in the same spot again,” Mr. Thiele said.

Police closed the stretch of Flanders Road between Pleasure Drive and Bellows Pond Road for several hours last Thursday to conduct their investigation. The New York State Police Forensic ID and Collision Reconstruction Unit also responded to the scene to assist with the investigation, as did the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau.

Both vehicles involved in the crash were impounded and transported to Town Police headquarters in Hampton Bays for routine safety checks. The results of those inspections was not immediately known.

Funeral services for Ms. Tocci, who worked for a title insurance company in Riverhead, were held Monday morning at the McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home on Marcy Avenue in Riverhead. Burial followed at the Flanders Cemetery.

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I'm wondering if this had anything to do with the pothole riddled road conditions in that area.
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on Jan 16, 14 1:40 PM
3 members liked this comment
No kidding. I've nearly gone off the road there as a result of hitting a huge pothole on a number of occasions. Disgraceful, and very sad that this person may've paid the ultimate price.
By johnj (1019), Westhampton on Jan 16, 14 1:57 PM
2 members liked this comment
Unfortunate that it takes a death for the State to start repairing the road. If my memory serves me correct, yesterday was another accident due to the pot holes and a few months ago a service truck hit a mother and child sending them into the woods and the driver said he lost control after hitting a pot hole. Why does an innocent person have to lose a life due to NYS's neglect of this horrible road? RIP and my prayers go out to the family.
By SHTownHB (75), Hampton Bays on Jan 16, 14 2:30 PM
2 members liked this comment
Story I have gotten is the driver of the truck hit a giant pot hole , lost control of his vehicle and crossed the median, killing Ms Tocci. If this is fact, both Pseg as well as NYSDOT should be held accountable, brought up on charges, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The roads are horrendous, at the county and state levels.

The tax payers, who through off the wall taxes and continuous tax hikes pay these employees, deserve better and should be outraged.
By Wll (4), Riverhead on Jan 16, 14 3:24 PM
2 members liked this comment
We haven't even had a bad winter and the road is a mess. Whoever repaved did a lousy job. Rosemar paved 39 and you don't see the multitude of potholes on that high traffic roadway that you do on Flanders Rd.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 16, 14 5:02 PM
Although, dnice, CR 39 has an old stable concrete road bed under most of its width west of 7/11. And probably better drainage and elevation above ground water?
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 16, 14 5:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
PS -- Condolences to the family of Ms. Tocci. Hopefully the driver was not impaired in any way.
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 16, 14 5:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
Marlinspike and PBR, good points. I didn't think about the concrete underneath either.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 16, 14 5:39 PM
The road was in poor condition before the winter. Full of temporary patches. It doesn't take a genius to realize that with the freeze/thaw cycle of East End winters plus snowplows it would result in the present road condition. Unfortunately, it took a fatality for the DOT to take action. My condolences go out to the Tocci family
By itsamazing (224), Southampton on Jan 16, 14 8:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
What it comes down tohit the quaditytof he lust pavinh jos !
By NEWLONDON (48), westhampton beach on Jan 17, 14 12:44 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By NEWLONDON (48), westhampton beach on Jan 17, 14 12:44 PM
I was on that road on Tuesday, southbound and I couldn't BELIEVE how bad those potholes were. There were so many that when I swerved to avoid one I would just hit another. It was like pothole pinball. Getting my car serviced tomorrow and crossing my fingers that I don't have a bent axle. It wouldn't shock me if the potholes had something to do with this accident.
By JAD11968 (7), Southampton on Jan 16, 14 4:42 PM
2 members liked this comment
anyone know if road open yet
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jan 16, 14 4:55 PM
i bet it was the pot holes they are horrendous in that area since the snow,
By Erin 27 E (1263), southampton on Jan 16, 14 5:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
NYSDOT is to blame, that road has had dangerous potholes for a very long time. I know there were many complaints about it but the DOT did nothing. The recent freeze and thaw situation just made it worse. Now someone died because of the negligence.
By joan s (53), hampton bays on Jan 16, 14 5:45 PM
Just making it clear, ms. Barbra Tocci was an amazing woman, mother, wife, grand mother, and the brief friendship we shared, really made a impression on me, as she always did with everyone who had the blessing to come accrossed her. She will b missed vary much..... takin from ur loved ones way to soon.. im glad i got the chance to meet her and her husband kent. we send out our deepest sympathys aswell as our prayers to her sons, grandchildern, husband, and her family & friends.
By MichelleHuskey (1), Redding, California on Jan 16, 14 6:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
Michelle Huskey--Thank you for sharing about Barbra Tocci and making her story more personal to those of us who did not know her. She could have been any of our mothers, sisters, daughters, etc. that set out on her normal routine. The posts on this site often turn into rantings and judgments, and we forget that many lives were forever changed by this accident. I am truly sorry for your loss, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all of Barbra's loved ones.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Jan 17, 14 1:22 PM
2 members liked this comment
Well the DOT was out there this afternoon working on the potholes. I am sure it is a coincidence.

My sympathies to the family of Mrs. Tocci. So very sad.
By bb (910), Hampton Bays on Jan 16, 14 7:27 PM
POTHOLES TO BLAME? Every vehicle is equipped with brakes. SLOW DOWN don't swerve into on coming traffic.
By kpjc (161), east quogue on Jan 17, 14 8:24 AM
So you were there and saw both parties speeding/swerving?

By Wll (4), Riverhead on Jan 17, 14 11:06 AM
NOPE, just questioning everybody blaming potholes. Doesn't anyone take responsibility for their actions anymore? Swerving or whatever, truck crossed the line.
By kpjc (161), east quogue on Jan 17, 14 12:45 PM
Simplistic thinking will not solve complex problems. Multiple causes may require many inter-related mini-solutions, and sticking one's head in the sand only results in a certain part of the anatomy sticking up to get whacked . . .

Are you so sure that the truck did not have a mechanical failure due to hitting the pothole [think "steering" in case you need a hint] ? Did you see the post above about the PSEG foreman saying another truck had a similar problem due to hitting a pothole on this ...more
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 17, 14 2:08 PM
2 members liked this comment
You sound like you must be a member of the DOT crew??

Potholes and crappy roads "are" are the problem as a result of shoddy work, incompetence, and non repair. The road just didn't up and buckle in a week. its been that way for over a year. Call DOT in Riverhead or stop in and request to see log book (more than likely full of complaints)

If NYSDOT were a privately run entity/business, they'd have gone belly up years ago. In my opinion the ones who do not take responsibility ...more
By Wll (4), Riverhead on Jan 18, 14 10:20 AM
The foreman at NYSDOT in riverhead told me when I called, that he drives that road every day to and from work, and has himself forwarded complaints yet nothing was done. Also told me pseg foreman contacted NYSDOT weeks earlier because another of their drivers broke a front shock on another truck in relatively same location.

To the management at NYSDOT, your ignorance, carelessness and incompetence took away somebodies life. You will be held accountable. How ironic your crews showed up ...more
By Wll (4), Riverhead on Jan 17, 14 11:03 AM
2 members liked this comment
By NEWLONDON (48), westhampton beach on Jan 17, 14 12:17 PM
It might be appropriate at this time to see if any of the major potholes were reported to the dept. of transportation by the different police agencies that travel and patrol the road every day . This might eliminate any future problems traveling this road !
By NEWLONDON (48), westhampton beach on Jan 17, 14 2:19 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By NEWLONDON (48), westhampton beach on Jan 17, 14 2:19 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By RebekahKeeler (1), Stony Brook, New York on Jan 17, 14 3:51 PM
Barbara was great. Her heart was ENORMOUS! I don't know of anyone who had a bad thing to say about her. My daughter is Barbara's niece, and when the "girls" (Barbara and her sisters) got together with Hailey, Hail always had great stories to tell when she got home. Her presence will be missed, and her loving soul, although not here on earth anymore, will always bring a smile to all that knew her. I'm so sorry for the Tocci's, and all of Barbara's friends. She will be missed by many... forgotten ...more
By RebekahKeeler (1), Stony Brook, New York on Jan 17, 14 3:53 PM
Ok first of all you have a road that gets patched up when it should be repaved. Then add to that the yo-yo weather swinging from 10 degrees to 45 degrees and back again. The road expands and contracts repeatedly. The result is patch jobs become instant potholes almost overnight. When you have weather like this, expect potholes, especially on long island. I dont know why they dont maintain the roads better, might be the weather. But if you slow down and dont tailgate, it shouldn't be life-threatening.
By Brian Bailey (36), Southampton on Jan 17, 14 11:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
My prayers and sympathy go out to the Tocci family at this time.
By kathrb (16), Southampton on Jan 18, 14 8:48 AM
To Hope and her entire family, may your daughter rest in peace and may you find comfort in knowing that she is in the church triumphant looking down at you every day. Please let the Deacons at church know how we can help.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Jan 19, 14 6:40 AM
I believe the state should be held responsible for this tragic accident, about 3 days before this accident I broke my rim on my car going down this road on my way home when it was dark out it happened in the same area as this accident. On Monday the day before this accident I called up the state and reported the potholes in this area and the state said that they had many calls from people complaining on this issue yet they chose not to fix this. I even traveled this road again 2 days after this ...more
By PeterMetzger (1), New York, New York on Jan 21, 14 4:08 PM
Barbara was the sweetest person you can ever meet. Yes you hear that all the time....but she truly was. I found out the news today a week late out in Arizona and I am in shock as I write this. I met her in 1984 and I am a better person for it. She was a strong woman and an incredible role model for her kids...she didn't take any bull and she didn't dish it out either. If you didn't want to hear the truth then you didn't ask her. No masking the truth with her. She will be missed by sooooo many. My ...more
By KerinGordon (1), Eastport, New York on Jan 23, 14 4:56 PM
How many more lives will we have to loose,how many more memorials will have to be erected before our elected officials address the very dangerous conditions that exist on Rt 24.This is not a pot hole problem deaths occur all times of year,note most of the fatalities are on the East side of road,cars crossing over to North bound lane.Would more speed enforcement by unmarked police cars help,I don't have an answer. I am sorry for the loss of Barbara to her family and friends let her death be ...more
By Etians rd (542), Southampton on Jan 25, 14 1:06 PM
I have an answer. Put up Jersey barriers until you reach Flanders. The road is park land till then, and there is no reason for anyone to cross the road.
By chief1 (2790), southampton on Jan 25, 14 1:47 PM