Tragedy on the Taconic

August 4, 2009 9:47:25 PM PDT
Nothing is inexplicable.

I know some folks will disagree with that as a life philosophy. And I get that.

But in news we have to embrace it.

There are reasons things happen - the "why" in the journalistic equation - and when those reasons aren't readily available, truth in time usually will out.

It did in that horrific wrong-way crash on the Taconic Parkway - a crash that killed eight people on July 26.

Today we learn that Diane Schuler, who drove south in the northbound lanes of the already-treacherous Taconic for nearly two miles, had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 (more than twice the legal limit) and had a hefty dose of marijuana in her system. These statistics from the medical examiner's toxicology report.

Small wonder she told her brother - right before she tossed her cell phone out the car window half an hour before the crash - that she felt disoriented and was having trouble with her vision. Well duh.

And small wonder her brother said to pull over and he'd come get her - and, oh yeah, also get the five kids who were in the car.

I want to pound my fist into the desk. Why didn't she just wait. Why did she just drive on? Whatever demons she was battling, nothing was worth the lives of the four children who died in her car, or the three men in the car she collided with (including a father and son).

And what about her husband - who took his pickup and decided he'd meet up with his family back on Long Island? What did he know?

Who drinks enough to be more than twice the legal limit by noon on Sunday? I'm no expert, but my guess is it's not a casual drinker. But I pass no judgments, except on those who get behind the wheel impaired, and especially if she has others in the car - and most especially if those others are kids.

What good did all those relatives and friends think they were doing by saying what a great person Ms. Schuler was, with no problems? Now they all look like conspirators in a cover up.

Today, Mike Bastardi, Jr., whose father and brother were killed in the crash, told our N.J. Burkett that he's angry that Schuler was drunk, angry that people who knew her remained silent, angry that so many people died.

"How could other people not know?" he told Burkett. "You have five kids?. leaving a campground, or wherever she was coming from, from the morning to when the accident happened at one-thirty. These are all questions that my family wants to know. We want to know the truth."

Nothing is inexplicable. As we're finding out with this horrible crash. Jeff Pegues is covering these latest developments for us, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, Bill Clinton to the rescue. Tonight, if all goes according to plan and if we're to believe the plans that have been publicly discussed, the two young American journalists, serving 12 years of hard time in a North Korean prison for illegally entering that country, will be on a plane with the former President, heading back home.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were busted in March, and convicted in June. The two reporters had unwittingly become players in high-stakes game of international politics, pitting the otherwise isolated North Korea against the U.S.

Officially, U.S. officials had already offered soft apologies for the women's behavior. And their families - led by Ling's sister Lisa - had sent out several emotional appeals, asking for the women's release.

Clearly, North Korea wanted a high-profile negotiator and a high-profile apology. And they apparently got it. Can't get much more high profile than Bill Clinton, who flew to North Korea last night -and got a red-carpet welcome and an audience with Kim Jong Il.

He arrived with a mouth full of we're sorry. And it appears he'll leave with a handful of much obliged. At this writing, North Korea has just pardoned the two women. (Not that there was any doubt; experts said Mr. Clinton would not have traveled there had the deal been anything less than almost done.)

Jim Dolan is covering the release of the two young women, and the complicated politics behind all this.

And finally, a shout out tonight to Helen Thomas, the dean and grand dame of White House reporters. She turned 89 today. And one of her gifts was a surprise rendition of "Happy Birthday" in the White House press room from someone else who's celebrating a birthday today - President Obama. Happy birthday to both of them.

And finally, a correction from yesterday's column - and a lesson that haste makes waste. I wrote that four Republican Senators who say they'll vote against confirming Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court had voted in favor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who at the time was a staff lawyer for the ACLU.

All that's true. What was wrong was that Ginsburg was nominated not by the first Pres. Bush but by Pres. Clinton. The four Senators did vote before for Sotomayor, who was nominated for the federal bench by the first Pres. Bush.

My bad - and thanks to all those sharp-eyed readers who caught the error.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.