Wrong way driver was drunk, high

November 15, 2009 7:42:50 PM PST
The carnage was numbing. The mangled wreckage, jarring as it was, could not approach relating the horror that emerged from the Taconic State Parkway. A grim parade of lives, young and old, extinguished in a heartbeat, all, it turns out, because of a liquor-fueled, drug -addled mother who took to the road.

Dianne Schuler loaded up her mini-van with her son and daughter and three nieces and headed back to Westchester County from a Catskills children's camp.

She was surely already drunk, because her autopsy shows a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, but there were also fifteen ounces of undigested alcohol in her system and a broken bottle of vodka was found in her car.

Shortly after crossing the Tappanzee Bridge she called her brother saying she was disoriented and having trouble seeing. Little wonder. Besides the alcohol, she had also been smoking marijuana, officials said.

"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. "You start to get what we call tunnel vision."

Indeed. The crash, after driving for more than two miles the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, killed her, her own daughter and three nieces.

Three men in the car she crashed into were also killed. At the time, people called Dianne Schuler a model mother.

Police said no criminal charges were planned in the case.

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."

Bastardi's sister, Roseann Guzzo, said Tuesday her family wanted to meet with prosecutors to discuss the case.

"We're outraged by it," she said. "It's a choice she made. And that choice she made to us is like she committed murder."

Now police are starting to wonder why they have been able to get so little information from the family she left behind.

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.

Her brother, the father of the three girls who died, said she called him about a half-hour before the wreck sounding disoriented and saying she didn't feel well. Schuler's 8-year-old niece also spoke briefly with her father from the highway. The woman'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, which happened after Schuler drove 1.7 miles south in the parkway's northbound lane.



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