10 Years After Loss, LI Families Urge Drivers: 'Put Your Phones Down'

January 17, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

EAST END, NY — Tuesday marked 10 years since two East End residents lost their lives, just hours apart on a cold winter morning, ripping apart hearts — and filling the loved ones of the lost with a mission to forever advocate for change on deadly roads.

“10 years ago today on the North Fork of Long Island,” Jennifer Garrett-Callaghan wrote on Facebook Tuesday. “You would think that was the beginning of a great love story, and in many ways it was, but sadly, it was also the ending of one. 10 years ago today, I lost my best friend, my husband. His children lost their father. He has five grandchildren, he’s never met— and my heart breaks for them, because they are missing out on a wonderful man.”

Callaghan, 49, of Jamesport, was killed on Route 25 in Laurel in 2014 during the pre-daylight hours while jogging in dense fog conditions, police said. Police said it appeared that Callaghan was struck by a hit-and-run driver, and then, by two westbound vehicles whose drivers remained at the scene, where he died.

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“Even though I have picked myself up and moved myself through life in the best way I can, today, I still mourn the loss of a dear person, a beautiful person, the funniest man I knew,” Garrett-Callaghan said. “And I ask you all when you are behind the wheel of your car to slow down, put your phones down, and pay attention! In the blink of an eye, an accident can happen. And you can take somebody’s life. Heaven forbid this happens to you. I hope that you pull over and stop and try to help —and don’t leave another victim of a hit-and-run to suffer.”

Days after Callaghan died in 2014, his wife shared her heartbreak with Patch.”Jim Callaghan was one of a kind. He was the one true love of my life and he will forever be in my heart and soul,” she said. “He was a wonderful, loving father of four beautiful children. An avid runner, comedian, and all around great guy. He will be missed by all who loved him every second of every day for the rest of our lives.”

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That same morning, Barbara Tocci, 47, of Hampton Bays, was killed in a tragic crash on Flanders Road. Police said the crash took place at 7:57 a.m. near the intersection of Spinney Road and Flanders Road between a PSEG Truck and a Ford Explorer. In the years since, her family has spoken out vehemently against texting and driving, and distracted driving.

A Bayport PSEG LI driver was accused of texting his girlfriend before the crash; a judge dismissed a criminal negligence charge and the driver was later sentenced to community service, according to Newsday.

“10 years that we all have missed seeing you and you seeing your children and grandchildren,” Tocci’s sister Susan wrote on Facebook Tuesday. “I know you are smiling down on, and are proud o,f Tom and Anthony and are never far away from them. I’m so sorry your life was cut short due to someone’s selfish act, changing all of our lives forever. I think often of how different life would be and how unfair this is. Thinking of you always, my beautiful sister — and miss you dearly.”

In the years since the tragedy, Tocci erected a sign in Flanders urging motorists not to drive under the influence or text and drive. In 2022, a rally, We Stand With Kadence And The Tocci Family in support of the sign took place on Flanders Road, a half-mile east of the Big Duck in Flanders. At the rally, Susan Tocci said her family never wanted to have had a tragic reason to erect the sign in the first place: “The message is clear: Do not do it. . . Do not text and drive.”

Remembering that dark day, Susan has told Patch, in a past interview: “The only sense of relief that day, is the people that came running to help, and I’ll never forget all of them that did,” she said.

She vowed to remain vigilant and keep sounding the call for safety — as she and her family live with an ever-present drumbeat of loss, she said.

“It’s still hard each time you pass ‘the spot’ so instead, I give a friendly toot and say ‘Hey, Barb’ to make myself feel better, instead of envisioning her last moments of life. The pain never goes away, for none of her family,” she said.

And that’s why Susan will continue to remind people not to text and drive, she said. “Together we can stop another senseless death, be that person in the car to say, ‘Put your phone down!’ and practice what you preach. If you can help that person to avoid killing someone, you’ve saved two family’s lives, because everybody’s life changes — and we won’t have to look back and say ‘what if?’ I’m sure Barbara will be smiling that big beautiful, dimple filled smile down on you as you do,” she said.

Then years later, Barbara has a singular message: “Help end distracted driving,” she said.

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