I've been obsessed with the news about Diane Schuler, the Long Island mother who drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway on July 26th before crashing, killing herself; all three of her three nieces, ages 8, 7 and 5; her 2-year-old daughter; and all three men in the car she crashed into. Only her five-year-old son survived, with critical injuries. One of the first articles to appear in the New York Times, "Bad Omens, a Fateful Turn and 8 Lives Lost" by Lisa W. Foderaro and Nate Schweber (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/nyregion/28crash.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=Diane+Schuler&st=nyt) noted that "police are awaiting toxicology and autopsy results, but Captain Realmuto said it did not appear that she was intoxicated or impaired by drugs in any way.'" There was speculation that she had undiagnosed diabetes and was in some sort of insulin shock, or that she had had a stroke or some other sudden-onset brain problem.
But as Al Baker and Lisa W. Foderaro wrote in their August 4th article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/nyregion/05crash.html?scp=2&sq=Diane%20Schuler%20she%20was%20drunk&st=cse), "for all the misguided and well-meaning speculation about what may have caused Diane Schuler to drive the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway 10 days ago, killing eight people in a head-on collision, the real reason was stark in its tragedy and simplicity: She was drunk." Toxicology tests showed that her blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit, and that she had used marijuana between 15 minutes and an hour before her death. They found a broken jumbo 1.75 liter vodka bottle under a seat in her minivan. Even sadder and stranger was the fact that her family apparently had no idea she had an alcohol problem. Her brother and sister-in-law, Warren and Jackie Hance, said they trusted her and never had any reason to think their children would be in danger with her. Her husband, Daniel Schuler, swore she was the perfect wife and mother, only occasionally drank, and grudgingly admitted she "occasionally" smoked marijuana, but that there must have been something "medically wrong" to cause her to go on a bender.
There was something medically wrong, all right -- she was a *&^%ing alcoholic! And either she was extremely skilled at hiding it, or her family was in deep, deep denial. I just can't picture the scene in her minivan. She literally must have been swigging from the bottle while she was driving: she still had undigested alchohol in her stomach when she died, and the witnesses at the McDonald's where she and the kids had stopped that morning said she didn't appear intoxicated then (although perhaps she had just starting to drink slowly, then sped it up later?). But wouldn't it be physically awkward and difficult to drive and drink from a huge bottle like that? If she had a flask or something, it hasn't been reported. And wouldn't she think, "Hey, I shouldn't drink from this bottle of vodka and smoke marijuana in front of my kids and my nieces, because they're going to tell their father(s) and then my secret will be out?" I'm trying to think back to when I was 5, 7, or 8 years old -- would I have known that an adult drinking from a bottle of Absolut while driving was wrong? Did she tell the kids it was water? And what about the marijuana? Did she do these things so often when they were in the car with her that they didn't think anything of it until she became seriously impaired? If not, why that weekend? What happened that day that made her suddenly binge? Apparently there are alcoholics who have to drink every day, but there are also alcoholics who can go weeks, even months, without drinking -- but when they do, look out.
Schuler's oldest niece, 8-year-old Emma, clearly knew something was wrong on that day. While Diane Schuler had called her brother at 11:37 AM to say they were running late due to traffic -- and apparently sounded normal to him at that point -- she wasn't the one who called him back at 12:58 PM, as was originally reported. It was Emma Hance who called her father and said, “Daddy, there is something wrong with Aunt Diane and she is having trouble seeing and she is talking funny, she is slurring." The call dropped after three minutes, but Warren Hance called back at 1:01 and spoke to Schuler for nine minutes. After that, she abandoned her cell phone and kept driving, even though Hance said he told her to stay put and he'd come find her (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/nyregion/08crash.html).
Also, Daniel Schuler and his lawyer raised questions about where the vodka bottle came from, claiming it could have been on the side of the road and the minivan just happened to crash into it (?). But last weekend, the story changed: "Tom Ruskin, an investigator who is working for the husband, Daniel Schuler, said that Mr. Schuler occasionally drank vodka and that his wife, Diane, was so frugal that she packed the same bottle of Absolut in a bag meant for trips between the family’s home in Suffolk County...and the camper in the Sullivan County campground they had frequented for the past three years. He said a single bottle could last a year for the Schulers" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/nyregion/08crash.html). Well, hello. Just because Daniel Schuler thought it was the same bottle every weekend doesn't mean it actually was!
The whole thing is just so strange. The woman held down a full-time job at Cablevision, took care of her kids, watched her brother's three kids, no reports of any domestic abuse or police calls to the home, no prior DWI arrests (although interestingly, Daniel Schuler was actually arrested for DWI 14 years ago, when he was 24, as he was driving from one bar to another after downing five beers: http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/08/10/crimesider/entry5230033.shtml)
I read somewhere that the condition of her liver would help determine if she had been a hard drinker for years, but no information has been released about that. Marvin D. Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden Foundation, an addiction-treatment center, theorized that "perhaps Ms. Schuler was experiencing early-stage alcoholism...so early that her husband had not picked up any telltale clues. Maybe the crash was an early public symptom that the situation had taken a significant turn for the worse. If so, that early symptom was also, tragically, her last" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/nyregion/08bigcity.html?fta=y). Also, she worked days while her husband worked the 4 PM - 12 AM shift as a public safety officer, so he probably didn't see her much during the week. That would have made it even easier to hide it from him.
The New York Post reported that Diane Schuler drank screwdrivers alone at a local bar, complaining of a bad marriage. But the Post doesn't exactly have the highest journalistic ethics -- they love to quote "anonymous sources" -- and they can't seem to write a story about this case without making a basic factual mistake (getting Schuler's age wrong, or referring to her brother as "William" instead of "Warren"), so who knows if that's true.
Here's an interesting article by Deborah King in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-king/diane-schuler-secret-alco_b_258560.html), which brings up the fact that while drunk driving is decreasing among men, it is increasing among women -- and women are more likely to have kids in the car. Apparently it happens more often than you might think. Scary.
I can't imagine what Warren and Jackie Hance are going through. Losing all three of your kids in an accident is heartbreaking -- and then to find out it was so easily preventable? I just can't even comprehend it.
P.S. Forget everything I just wrote. It was Anbesol, the topical pain reliever you put on your gums! THAT'S what gave Diane Schuler a 0.19 blood-alcohol level, according to Daniel Schuler's lawyer, Dominic Barbara (http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local-beat/Anbesol-to-Blame-for-Wrong-Way-Crash-Lawyer--53143877.html) Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? That lawyer is getting on my last nerve.