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Here’s everything to know about the lead-up to the tragic event involving Diane Schuler and the questions that still plague many to this day.

Did Diane Schuler’s behavior cause one of the worst crashes of all time?

True crime, usually, tends to focus pretty heavy toward unsolved mysteries, which can be a wild variety. Some mysteries, however, start when we know the end and wonder, “how did we get here?” Or, at least, this is the case with Diane Schuler and the horrific and tragic 2009 Taconic State Parkway crash that had claimed eight lives, including Schuler’s own. 

Here’s everything to know about the lead-up to the tragic event and the questions that still plague many to this day. 

The Incident

At 9:30am on July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler loaded up her two children (ages five and two) along with her brother’s, Warren Hance, three daughters (ages eight, seven, and five) into her brother’s red 2003 Ford Windstar and left the Hunter Lake Campground to start the journey to West Babylon, New York. Her husband, Daniel, took his pick-up truck and their dog. A co-owner for the campground said that when she left Diane Schuler appeared sober.

During the ride home, Schuler stopped with the children at a McDonald’s and Sunoco gas station in Liberty. While there, Schuler attempted to buy some over-the-counter pain relief, but it was not sold at the Sunoco. Schuler and the children left Liberty at 11am. They got on Route 17/Interstate 86 and the New York Thruway (Interstate 87), Ramapo-Sloatsburg service area, and crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge, heading east. 

This is when the calls from motorists started coming in about a red minivan driving erratically: aggressively tailgating, flashing headlights, honking the horn, moving in and out of lanes. At 11:37am, Schuler called Hance to tell him that she and the children were caught in traffic. Shortly after, Schuler was seen with her hands on her knees like she was vomiting at two separate instances. 

Around 1pm, one of Hance’s daughters was able to use Schuler’s cell phone in order to call her father. She told Hance that Schuler was having trouble speaking clearly and seeing the road. Schuler then talked to Hance and told him that she was feeling disoriented and could not see clearly. Hance told Schuler to pull off the road and wait for him to get to her and the children. Subsequent calls from Hance to Schuler went unanswered. It was later discovered on the side of a road near a tollbooth by another motorist. 

At 1:33pm, motorists called 9-1-1 again after noticing a red minivan edging onto the northbound exit ramp of the Taconic State Parkway near Briarcliff Manor. The end of this exit ramp was marked with “Do Not Enter” and “One Way” signs. Schuler was reportedly going between 75-85 mph at this time. 

At approximately 1:35pm, Schuler collided with a 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer while driving the wrong way in the northbound passing lane. The Trailblazer would then struck a 2002 Chevrolet Tracker. At the time of the collision, Schuler was travelling at 85 mph.

Schuler, her daughter, and two of her nieces were declared dead at the scene. The children were not in seat belts or car seats at the time of the collision. The three men in the Trailblazer: 81-year-old Michael Bastardi, his 49-year-old son Guy, and their friend, 74-year-old Dan Longo were also declared dead at the scene. The passengers of the Tracker, however, got away with minor injuries. 

Schuler’s surviving niece and her 5-year-old son Bryan were still alive at the scene. Her niece would later die at the hospital while Bryan would be the only survivor from Schuler’s van, sustaining broken bones and severe head trauma. 

Was Diane intoxicated?

Two men who saw the accident said that they saw a large, broken Absolut Vodka bottle in the van when trying to pull Schuler out of the car. A toxicology report released by the Westchester County medical examiner found that Schuler had a blood alcohol content of .19% at the time of the accident. Six grams of alcohol remained in her stomach yet to be absorbed into her bloodstream. The legal limit in the state of New York is .08%. 

The report also said that Schuler also had high levels of THC, meaning that Schuler smoked marijuana as well. 

Daniel Schuler, along with his attorney Dominic Barbara, initially denied that Diane did drugs or was drinking at the lake that weekend as they had the children with them. Schuler would later change his story, saying that Diane never “drank to excess” or could have been driving while drunk that day. When asked about the bottle of vodka found in the car, Daniel would say that they always kept a bottle in the camper and that Diane was in charge of packing and so must have moved it to the van.

According to the campground co-owner, the gas station employee at the Sunoco, and the employees at the McDonalds, Diana appeared sober, which covers the 9:30am and 11am timeline. Tim Ruskin, an investigator hired by Daniel Schuler, found people who observed Diane carrying on an extended conversation while ordering food. 

There was a lot of contention around Diane’s drug and alcohol use. Daniel denied that she drank to excess or smoked marijuana except on occasion to relieve insomnia. Diane’s sister-in-law, however, stated that Diane was a heavy smoker of marijuana. What Daniel and Barbara pushed was that Diane suffered from some sort of stroke or medical issue, which led to her odd and erratic behavior. The medical examiner, however, said that they did not find anything even pointing to that during the autopsy.

Daniel eventually raised the money to retest the samples taken during Diane’s autopsy along with new samples taken during the exhumation of Diane’s body. The samples, however, confirmed what the medical examiner found.

In June 2010, New York State Police released their final report of the incident, which confirmed that Diane Schuler was highly intoxicated by alcohol and marijuana at the time of the collision. 

The Aftermath

Daniel Schuler’s insistence that his wife was not intoxicated at the time of the collision has drawn criticism, especially from the families of the victims in the Trailblazer. Margaret Nicotina, Bastardi’s daughter, said, “Every time he does it, he brings it back for us. I just wish that he would just admit that she was drunk. Maybe if he knows what happened that morning, if they argued or anything, that would be the truth. He wants the truth. So do we.”

The crash was quickly ruled a homicide due to Diane’s negligent driving. Due to the fact that Diane died, however, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said that charges “died with her”. This also drew criticism saying that a grand jury investigation into the crash should have been opened. 

The Bastardi family would file a lawsuit against Daniel Schuler and Warren Hance seeking unspecified damages for “wanton, willful, and reckless conduct”. They were required to include Hance in the suit as he was the owner of the van. 

Jackie Hance, the mother of the Schuler’s three nieces who died in the crash, would also file a lawsuit against Daniel Schuler in July 2011. She said that her daughters suffered “terror, fear of impending death, extreme horror, fright, and mental anguish” in the lead-up to their deaths. 

Following the premiere of the HBO documentary There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, Daniel Schuler filed a lawsuit against the state of New York for not keeping the road safe and against Warren Hance as he owned the minivan that Diane was driving. By 2014, all the lawsuits were either settled or dropped with the settlements sealed by a judge. 

In addition to the legal battles, the Child Passenger Protection Act was passed in New York following the accident. This makes it illegal to drive with a minor under the age of 16 in the car. It’s also known as Leandra’s Law.

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Comments
  • The end cap needs a bit of editing for clarification; you can indeed drive with a minor in the car but it’s a felony to so while intoxicated.:
    “In addition to the legal battles, the Child Passenger Protection Act was passed in New York following the accident. This makes it illegal to drive with a minor under the age of 16 in the car. It’s also known as Leandra’s Law.”

    Leandra’s Law (Child Passenger Protection Act) is a New York State law making it an automatic felony on the first offense to drive drunk with a person age 15 or younger inside the vehicle, and setting the blood alcohol content, or BAC, at 0.08.

    May 24, 2020
  • After watching the documentary again and seeing those photos of her on the ground where she lay I noticed her left side is different indicative of a stroke. That eye is closed and the mouth is down on that same side. I do not have a medical license and dont claim to but I have been in the medical field my entire career. Although showing the alcohol in the bloodstream is still an issue, I just wonder if it was a multitude of things combined. Like untreated diabetes with even a few drinks mixed and abscess in tooth could all effect her state at the time. Horrible horrible tragedy

    July 29, 2020
  • I need someone to come slap me because I am literally obsessed with this case. I have read police reports and autopsy reports and read the book by Jackie Nance the 3 little girls mother. On a timeline you can see for yourself missing time, where was she and what was she doing? I’m not stupid and I understand the reality of her being drunk and high but I want to know why???? Why would she drink vodka in the van with 5 kids, and how? It was a huge bottle it’s not like she could hide it and when did she get high? I WANT TO KNOW WHY!

    September 11, 2020
  • I totally agree with Mary, the big question is why? Did she mistake the vodka for water? Did she have a blood sugar imbalance that was made much worse by the alcohol? Was there a lot of pain she experienced? It’s all so mysterious!

    September 27, 2020
  • I remember this case when it first happened and I just watched the documentary. I think Diane was in a lot of pain with the abscess and was using the vodka to swish and numb the pain. When she stopped with the kids at McDonalds and ordered orange juice, I think she figured it would be easier to hide the vodka from the kids by adding it to the orange juice, only orange juice is acidic and would burn horribly when swishing. So then what to do? No Tylenol at the gas station, already running behind and worried, hence the call to her brother, so she starts sipping. That, of course, makes her sick and drunk and still in pain and not thinking clearly at all. So she calls her brother again, says she’s not feeling well and can’t see and will wait for him. So, since she’s not going to drive anymore, she tries another pain remedy. She smokes. This tips her mental state completely off the rails and she’s now tripping as if in a dream state. She jumps back in the van, leaving her phone on the side of the road, and takes off, completely incapacitated and out of control.

    October 12, 2020
    • Normal people do not use vodka to numb a toothache while they are driving with 5 kids in the car. That’s an absurd theory.

      October 30, 2020
      • Wrong. Diane was highly controlled and did drink and smoke at least occasionally, and manage to function. If she was in pain , drank to full it, then spoke to her brother and thought she wasn’t going to be driving , smoking would have been ok for her to do because she wasn’t going to be high and drive. 2 theories are available , she got too high and didn’t know what she was doing ( blackout) or for whatever reason , she became an entirely different person after getting drunk and smoking ( this wasn’t crack) and decided to kill herself , her own children , her brothers and whoever else she rammed into? Makes no sense

        November 1, 2020
  • Speculation is all that’s left. Having watched the documentary, I think Diane was in deep emotional pain…much more than she ever let on. Don’t think she was an alcoholic per se (I recall a toxicology report indicating the liver was not that of a long term drinker) but I think there were issues going on. Between her personality, mother having abandoned her at young age, she became “mother” at very young age and husband that perhaps wasn’t always useful. His mother describes him as Diane’s older son?? Husband said, he never even wanted kids….there is more here. Sad, horrific ending with too many innocent victims.

    October 16, 2020
  • Completely haunted and obsessed by this. After a few years of having watched it about 3 times and reading everything on it, I think I’ve come up with what I believe happened. This woman has the most control over herself and everyone I’ve ever seen. She apparently never stopped doing things. Her husband literally did nothing. Obviously diane thought this was the best she was going to do in marriage ( listen to her childhood friends) . He was a child , not a husband. Her issues with her mother and brothers had never even been discussed much less resolved. The only way she could cope was by being “ perfect” . She had to control her environment 💯 % in order to feel calm. Someone like this would need to self medicate. Her tolerance would be way more than anyone would know. I believe diane had some major medical pain that day. I believe Danny and diane had some kind of disagreement that morning. I think diane drank a bit but certainly not to get drunk. It was to help with some major pain that she didn’t expect . She knew her tolerance level. The pain wasn’t going away. She really couldn’t see. My guess is a migraine. She drank more. She knew she was in trouble when she spoke to her brother and went to pull over. What happened essentially was that at some point after smoking pot and waiting for warren , she blacked out. In an unconscious state she realized they were going to know she was drunk and high and Diane was the perfect wife and mother and that was never going to happen. In her blackout she drove straight ( she thought) home to get there before anyone else but I think her real anger and pain took over and she ended up killing everyone in her deep pain.

    November 22, 2020
  • She had etoh and weed in her system. Regardless of why or how it got in her system, this is the reality and unfortunate fact. She was drunk driving. Really sad and the denial in the family is even sadder. The investigator Tom Ruskin, suddenly dropping out…very strange and suspicious. The husbands callous behavior tells an a bigger story.

    April 23, 2021
  • I have a feeling that she found out that Daniel and Jay were having an affair and she confronted him about it that weekend. It was inconceivable for her to divorce after the damage she’d seen herself as a child so maybe she decided that she’d rather take the children to “heaven” with her than leave them to be reared by Daniel. It also fits both of their ridiculous theory’s like the abyss causing a stroke. The fact that she had killed 8 people seemed incidental . They hardly referenced the little sister at all, but were totally obsessed with her not being called an alcoholic . I just don’t think its as straight forward as it was portrayed .

    September 3, 2021

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