New York Mom Kills Self and 7 Others in Wrong-Way Drunk Driving Crash

Posted on August 5th, 2009

Police painted a grizzly picture of the reckless driving of Diane Schuler that led to the July 26 crash that killed 8 people, including Schuler. The 36-year-old mother of two had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19%, more than twice the legal limit, and had smoked marijuana 15 minutes to an hour before driving. The crash killed Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter, three of her nieces (all under age 10), and the three men in the SUV she collided with.

Toxicology reports showed that Schuler consumed at least 10 ounces of liquor during the 90-mile drive from a campground in Sullivan County, New York, to Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, and police found a jumbo 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut vodka in the wreckage of her Ford Windstar minivan.

"With that level of alcohol … she would have had difficulty with perception, with her judgment, with her memory," said Betsy Spratt, chief toxicologist for the Westchester County medical examiner. "Around that level of alcohol you start to get tunnel vision where you can’t see peripherally all the time." Marijuana intensifies the effects.

Police could not say if Schuler got drunk while driving or stopped along the way. It was unclear if she was drinking before she got behind the wheel to drive the children home from camping.

Schuler’s husband, Daniel, told investigators that everything seemed fine when he and his wife left the Sullivan County campground at about 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the crash. He went on a fishing trip while his wife headed home with the children, stopping at a McDonald’s on the way, police said.

Ann Scott, 77, who owns the campsite the family visited for three years, saw Schuler off. "I got pretty close to her and waved goodbye,”" she said. "If she had alcohol in her breath, I would have smelled it."

Schuler’s brother Warren Hance, the father of the three girls who died, said Schuler called him around 1:00 pm, sounding disoriented and saying she didn’t feel well. At 1:30 pm, she entered the northbound Taconic State Parkway via an exit ramp. She drove 1.7 miles the wrong way before plowing into the SUV. Schuler’s cell phone was later found abandoned at a rest stop.

Witnesses said they saw Schuler’s minivan straddling two lanes and tailgating, with its headlights flashing and horn beeping. Others saw the vehicle veering from one lane to another, and one witness said it appeared as if she was attempting to pass him on the shoulder of the highway. Another witness said the van drove across a grass divider at a service area. Six drivers called 911 before the collision.

The toxicology tests came as a shock after police initially said it didn’t appear that Schuler was drunk. Police waited until the burials of the victims to release the results of the tests. Killed in the minivan were Schuler, 36, Schuler’s daughter Erin, 2, and Schuler’s nieces Emma Hance, 9, Alison Hance, 7, and Katie Hance, 5. Schuler’s 5-year-old son, Brian, was the only survivor.

Three Yonkers men in the SUV died — Guy Bastardi, 49, his father, Michael Bastardi, 81, and family friend Daniel Longo, 74. "We got very devastating news today," Michael Bastardi Jr. said .

"I’m stunned that anybody would do that with kids in the car," said Robert Guzzo, whose brother-in-law and father-in-law were killed. "I’m very angry. This was not an accident ; it was a murder."

Schuler’s family called her “an accomplished working mother who always put her children before any other priorities.” They also called her "a devoted mother to her children, Bryan and Erin."

"She was a constant, doting presence in her nieces’ lives, and our extended family admired her competence, ease with children and sense of humor," it said. "Never has there been a more responsible and trusted friend or caregiver."
 

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