Memorial held for Taconic crash victims

November 15, 2009 7:44:27 PM PST
Hundreds turned out on Long Island Monday night to mourn those killed in a horrific wrong-way crash on the Taconic State Parkway.Eight people were killed in the fiery crash Sunday, including a mother from West Babylon, her daughter and three nieces.

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    The outpouring in Floral Park, 600 by one estimate, filled Our Lady of Victory Church to overflow. Many were not able to get inside. They came as friends and family, they came as a community, they came as strangers to remember 36-year-old Diane Schuller, 2-year-old Erin Schuller, 9-year-old Emma Hance, 7-year-old Alison Hance and 5-year-old Kate Hance.

    Police say that Diane Schuller was driving the wrong way, southbound in the Taconic's northbound lane.

    Meanwhile, investigators are searching for answers as to what happened that caused the incident.

    Two hours before the accident, police said she had called her brother complaining that she was not feeling well. He told her to pull over and said he would come to get her. It's unclear where she was at the time or exactly what occurred after that. Investigators are trying to learn more about the specifics of that phone call and what may have been her medical problem.

    "At this point, we do not know what caused the operator of the vehicle to travel the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway," Captain Michael Realmuto said. "We are awaiting autopsy results and toxicology reports."

    Schuller drove 1.7 miles on the Taconic. As other cars frantically veered to avoid her and warned her by flashing their lights, Schuller kept going. State police received six 911 calls, but could not respond fast enough. The minivan collided with an SUV and then a third vehicle, before careening down an embankment and bursting into flames.

    All three men in the SUV died. They are identified as Guy Bastardi; his father, 81-year-old Michael Bastardi; and 74-year-old Daniel Longo, all from Yonkers.

    Schuller's 5-year-old son Brian is the sole survivor from the van. He is being treated for severe head trauma at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. His father rushed from Long Island to be by his side.

    "Accidents involving drivers going the wrong way on the parkway are rare," Realmuto said.

    While some of the parkway's ramps and intersections have been known to confuse drivers, Schuller was reportedly familiar with the route because she drove it often.

    Her family is said to have a camper upstate and, on this fateful car ride, the family was returning from a camping trip.

    The tragedy was the second wrong-way crash Sunday on the Taconic State Parkway. The other occurred about 20 miles north. Police said in that case the driver was drunk.



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