7 On Your Side Investigates: Family blames DA for failure to charge texting driver in fatal crash

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
7 On Your Side Investigates: Family blames DA for failure to charge texting driver in fatal crash
Jim Hoffer reports on the investigation into the fatal crash that killed a Long Island mother.

PATCHOGUE, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island family is blaming the Suffolk County district attorney for failing to charge a texting driver in a fatal crash that killed their mother.

Seventy-year-old Barbara Rizzi was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street in Patchogue to attend midnight Mass on Christmas 2017.

In an exclusive interview, the Rizzis told 7 On Your Side Investigates that they were ready to quietly grieve their loss and accept it as a tragic accident -- until hearing from a police detective who had responded to the crash.

"He said, 'Get the phone records,'" daughter Nicole Rizzi said. "'You are going to want to get the phone records.'"

The Rizzis filed a Freedom of Information request for the phone records of the 20-year-old driver who struck and killed their mother. Months later, those records arrived.

"Texting, receiving, texting, reading, texting," son Angelo Rizzi said.

He said the records revealed that in the three minutes from the time the young woman left her home until she hit their mother head-on, she send 11 text messages and read eight.

"To know this girl got into her car, rapid-fire text, text, text, and took our mom, avoidable, callous," Nicole Rizzi said.

But the Suffolk County district attorney never charged the driver with any infraction, neither texting while driving nor reckless driving.

The Rizzis say the DA's Office told them the accident occurred at 12:04, just over three minutes after the driver's last text message at 55 seconds past midnight.

But the family disputes the 12:04 accident time, based on the driver's statement to police and the phone records.

The driver told police that immediately after the crash, she called her mom and boyfriend. Phone records indicate that call to her mom was made at 12:01:27 -- meaning the accident occurred sometime between her last text at 55 seconds after midnight and the call to her mom 32 seconds later, not the three-minute gap told to them by the DA.

The Suffolk DA's Office declined an on-camera interview but did say that, "There was insufficient evidence under New York State Law to prove causel connection between the driver's conduct and the crash."

Suffolk County did indict a driver for assault in a texting case that seriously injured a state trooper the week before Barbara Rizzi was killed, and the Rizzis say they want the same kind of accountability.

"She was fully cognizant that driving with her head down could cause an accident, " Nicole Rizzi said. "She continued to do it anyway, and she should be held accountable."

In the trooper case, there were eyewitnesses who said they saw the driver texting. There were no eyewitnesses in the Rizzi accident.

"It is our legal responsibility to meticulously review the facts of every case...through the lens of New York State criminal law," the DA's Office said. "In each case...we go where the evidence takes us."

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