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Dark Twist in Crash Tragedy

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The news today that Diane Schuler was simply drunk and stoned is shocking.

Diane Schuler

Ronda Kaysen: The story was tragic enough to begin with: a mother driving her two young children and three nieces home from a camping trip gets confused and disoriented and drives nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a highway before hitting another car head-on and killing a total of eight people, including herself. Mysteries and suppositions swirled about what went wrong: did she have a condition that resembled diabetic shock? Why did she abandon her cell phone? How did she manage to drive for so long on the wrong side of the highway?

The news today that Diane Schuler was simply drunk and stoned is shocking. The 5' 2" woman had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 and fresh alcohol still in her stomach that hadn't even metabolized yet. She smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the crash.

The carnage left in the worst crash on the Taconic State Parkway in 75 years is stunning. In her own car, Schuler killed herself, her 2-year-old daughter, and three nieces: Emma, 8; Alyson, 7; and Kate, 5. In the SUV that she hit head-on, she killed Michael Bastardi, 81, his 49-year-old son, Guy, and a family friend, 74-year-old Daniel Longo. The lone survivor was Schuler's 5-year-old son, Bryan, who is still hospitalized.

Today's revelation casts a dark shadow on a chain of events that seemed strange from the start. The Schulers left the campsite at 9:30 AM, with Mr. Schuler traveling in a separate car from his wife. They stopped for breakfast and nothing seemed amiss. Shortly before the crash, Schuler called her brother, Warren Hance, the father of the three little girls. He was so disturbed by their conversation that he set out to find them. And then Diane Schuler abandoned her phone on the side of the road for no apparent reason.

The autopsy report raises more questions than it answers. Suddenly a family's tragic loss becomes far more complicated and sinister. If Schuler had a serious drinking and drug problem, someone must have known and allowed her to drive those children home. What transpired between Mr. and Mrs. Schuler before they left the campsite? Did he know she had alcohol in the car? Had she already started drinking? A shattered bottle of vodka was found in the charred minivan. Schuler wasn't just sipping chardonnay, she was boozing hard.

Car crash

Mrs. Schuler's blood alcohol level was the equivalent of drinking 10 shots of 80-proof liquor, the New York Times reported. "She would have had difficulty with her perception, with her judgment, with her memory," Elizabeth Spratt, director of toxicology for the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research, said. "Around that level of alcohol, you also start to get what's called tunnel vision, where your perception is changed so you can't see peripherally all the time."

Drinking of this magnitude couldn't possibly have been a freak occurrence. Someone, presumably Schuler's husband, knew that she had a serious substance abuse problem and let her drive those children -- who knows on how many different occasions -- while intoxicated. Or perhaps she hid a secret life all too well. From the start, I wondered if she was on a suicide mission: distraught about something that transpired. Perhaps, drinking that much while driving a car at high speed was a suicidal act. It's terrifying to think that a mother of two would act so recklessly with so many lives.

The Bastardi family has been quick to respond to the news. "We were victims the first time, but we feel like we're being victims all over again because she made that choice," Roseann Guzzo, whose father and brother were killed when Schuler's car hit their Trailblazer, told the Times. "How do you put five children in a car when you're a mother who's a drunk?" Ms. Guzzo said. "We're mothers. I would never do something like that. It's crazy."

Schuler's family, meanwhile, has been silent. Surely, the news was a devastating blow. But in the coming days, someone will have to start answering questions.

next: Mom Fined for Grieving Too Long at Baby Son's Funeral
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mom2two August 5, 2009, 3:20 PM

There is NO WAY that her husband didn’t know that she had a alcohol problem. I was raised by an alcoholic mother and YES, my father knew about it. He knew that she drove us around while she was drunk and they had tremendous fights about it but it never put an end to it. Thankfully, my mother has never killed or even injured anyone(other than herself) while she drives drunk and amazingly has only had 2 car accidents that as an adult I now know were alcohol related. My mother (now 65) still drives drunk, though not as often as before and she has NEVER, not ever, been pulled over by the police for it, when I still lived near her I would call the police and report her, but still she has never been caught.

Presumably Diane Shuler’s husband never imagined that she would be chugging vodka and smoking weed while she drove 5 children home from the cottage. Afterall, it was 9:30 am when they began their journey. The alcoholic mind is not something that can be comprehended by those of us that aren’t alcoholics. Alcholics are mentally ill. There is no other explanation. Not being an alcoholic, when normal people drink alcohol they realize that they should not operate a vehicle. Alcoholic don’t alter their behaviour that way. They are in denial of their disease and this denial leads to them going about their normal everyday tasks without alterations. This is a very tragic loss of 8 lives. May they rest in peace and may their families one day be able to rebuild their lives.

Anonymous August 5, 2009, 10:28 PM

My father was an alcholic and to the this day I dont drink by choice because of him. I myself have been in that car and thank god he never wrecked. Its sad what children are sacrificed for at the hand that should be doing right by them. This tragedy should prove an example of why staying sober behind the wheel is so imporant. RIP ALL .. I pray that little boy can move on with his life in a positive direction

kcbeniets August 6, 2009, 2:11 PM

Articles like this are written by authors eager to be correct about their predictions and assumptions — and then get the kudos afterward. A suicide mission? If you are correct in your accusation, it will be an accident. Unless, perhaps, you knew the woman or the family. No? I didn’t think so.

Mom on LI of 2 August 6, 2009, 5:39 PM

When I first saw this on the front covers of the newspapers in the supermarket, I became physically ill.It was the last thing that I expected to hear. I am making no judgements about this woman because I am not an alcoholic. My problem does lie with the whole family of all of these children. I tend to agree that someone knew she at least smoked pot. They probably knew that she drank alcohol. Children don’t need to be around people like that. They need to be protected from people like that. When I think of those poor people but ESPECIALLY the children who were old enough to see what she was doing, tailgating and flashing her lights at people, before the crash, it makes me physically ill.

I don’t want to even see the father say there were no signs because he already told the cops she smoked pot occasionally. Who lets their children drive in a car with a pothead? He knows more then he is saying and unfortunately , I believe that whole family does too. It is an absolute tragedy but I bet there will be plenty of blame to share. You are responsible for your children’s safety.

Sober_Mom August 7, 2009, 6:16 PM

Unfortunately, this problem is way more prolific that the media could possibly convey. Who wants to admit they drive drunk with their children in the car? Who wants to admit that they let their wife, sister, friend drive drunk with their children in the car? The fact is that we are still a community of “friends” that let friends drive drunk. Until there is some outrage and some action to prevent it, thousands more children will die at the hands of a loving mom, sister, aunt, grandmother who did not know how or when to say “when”.

gb August 10, 2009, 11:28 AM

It will be eventually shown Diane Schuler was desperately suicidal and responsbile for killing 7 innocent lives in her dispair. There was a case very similar to this west of Boston a couple of years ago where a woman drove the wrong way on the interstate looking to “end it all”. She pulled over eventually and stripped naked along with her 3 kids. All were killed instantly in jumping into traffic. The case was eventually proved to be a suicide. Diane Schuler, sadly, cut from the same mold by my account.

Anonymous August 17, 2009, 10:20 AM

Sorry, too late. For the kids, that is.

phillip wines September 5, 2009, 2:15 PM

Mr schuler stated on The Larry King show that he packed the camping supplies, including the vodka bottle, in bags and placed them in the van. The state police said that they found the vodka bottle under the seat. How did it get out of the bag?

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