Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diane Schuler

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 ( 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 (, "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 (

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" ( 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:

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 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" ( 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 (, 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 ( Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? That lawyer is getting on my last nerve.


  1. Trust me on this one: Those kids knew there was something wrong.

  2. That's the awful part. It was the 8-year-old niece who called her father and said something was wrong with her aunt -- otherwise I doubt he would have gotten a phone call at all. If she just wasn't feeling well, wouldn't she have just stayed put and let her brother come get her? I think she kept driving because she somehow thought if she could just get home, she wouldn't get caught drunk.
    Those kids must have been terrified. :( :( :(

  3. I didn't remember this story until I saw the HBO documentary last night "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane," and I cannot stop thinking about it. It's true: if she were legitimately sick or disoriented, why the f*** didn't she pull over and wait for help to arrive. Of all the mysteries surrounding this event, the one clear certainty is that she deliberately put eight innocent people in danger. The truth, however, is that no one will ever know WHY she did it because the one person who can answer that question is dead.

  4. I have a theory after watching this documentary. I'm sure she was a good wife and mom, but if she had an abscess then she may have been in pain that morning. Thought she'd get meds, but couldn't find any so she decided to drink a little and smoke some pot to self medicate. Maybe she decided to keep self medicating once she started and the niece began to take notice and called her dad. I think if Diane was a closet drinker then this call may have freaked her thinking her cover was blown so she pulled over and maybe was trying to be sick so she'd sober up. Decided to leave the cell so the niece couldn't call anymore. I think she took the long way to sober up before she got home, but then she went the wrong way tragically. Only they know. It's such a sad story. I can't stop thinking about it every since I watched the movie this weekend.

    1. Nikki, I think that's a good theory. I, too, wondered if she was trying to self-medicate and got in over her head. I've also heard speculation she was trying to kill herself and the alcohol just gave her the 'courage' to do it. The documentary was fascinating, though it raised more questions than it answered. You're right. We'll never know. :( The only bright spot to come out of this tragedy is that Jackie Hance ended up deciding to go through in vitro fertilization, and she and Warren now have a healthy baby girl. Will never replace the three daughters they lost, but at least they are parents again.

  5. Alcoholics and closet drinkers always mess up at least once and become drunk or at least tipsy at social gatherings but there is NO evidence that Diane was a drinker at any social gatherings despite being a social person that attend social gatherings frequently and why no one who knew her could believe the toxicology report.

    When we dig deeper into who/what Diane Schuler was as an individual and we get beyond all the hooplas; i.e., a super mom, a dynamic employee, great friend and wife, whilst we don't see an individual with past or current addictions we do see an individual that on occasion acted uncharacteristically Impulsive. Ex: once she went to the store to buy a gal of milk and came home with a flat screen TV and once she went grocery shopping and came home with a Jeep Cherokee. There are plausible explanations for an individual that on rare occasions can act out of character where those that know them think..WTF?? but these occurrences are so rare or isolated that they are forgiven and forgotten because the individual has so many enviable qualities in their character and personalities.

    Diane was diagnosed with a sleep disorder and was prescribed Ambien and also used marijuana on occasion as a sleep aid. Ambien has been known to cause adverse effects like uncharacteristic behaviors in some patients. Since she was such a high achiever that pushed herself to super-woman feats, the stress of failure could produce these rare occasional impulsive behaviors so far removed from the 'norm'.

    Since Diane acted so far out of character that day and the autopsy findings show no medical reason for her behavior and the toxicology report shows no prescribed medication in her system for her mis-behavior that day, we can only look for a crack in her personality that could account for these rare occasions of uncharacteristic impulsive acts.

  6. Judging from witness reports of her lack of awareness and from the autopsy report we can conclude that Diane Schuler never saw what hit her and was Killed on impact She had no fear or pain from the collision whilst some of her victims clearly did and her surviving son always will. Seems unfair doesn't it? I can empathize with Jackie Hance, a once devoted Christian now questions her belief in GOD and humanity as well considering all the hate her family has received because of her Sister-in-Law's conduct that day. Many beLIEve that family members should have known Diane was an alcoholic and intervened before this horrible head on collision created the worst motor vehicle accident on the Taconic Parkway in 75 years. Some beLIEve the Schuler family is lying about knowing nothing of Diane's drinking problem to escape liability. Humanity at its worst because the Perp escapes trial and punishment through death by her own hands. No charges filed as the criminal died at the crime scene and so The Public feels 'cheated' out of taking vengeance. It would have been good for Diane to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair behind bars so we could hold her up as The Poster Person to all people who think drinking and driving is a risk they can take. The truth is, we have Plenty in our society that we could 'use' for those Poster boards and their faces every month from now until the End of Times and people will still drink and drive. Why? As a society, we have created a world where achievements and economic status are far more valued than morality and caring about those we call 'strangers'. How many drivers that day saw Diane along side of the road or at a rest stop 'appearing ill as if she were about to vomit' but did nothing to help her despite five little kids in the car? I think that 'news' shocked me more than Diane being mentally, visually and physically impaired I'm but desperate to get the kids home as quickly as possible. Let this be a heads up to all of us that when we SEE a mother with little children who appears ill for us 'as strangers' to HELP her and the children. If I saw a woman who is outside her vehicle with little kids inside bent over and appearing to vomit, I would STOP and come to her aid. Please tell me that You all would too.

    1. They were driving by, presumably watching the road, and got a glimpse of a woman outside a van who looked like she was maybe going to throw up. They wouldn't have any idea if there were children in the car and to turn that information into the thought that they should stop and try to help in the 2 seconds they were passing by.

  7. My first question is: why was it so easy for Diane to do this? That is, everything that impaired her was right at her fingertips. Why was the bottle of vodka so close? Just behind the passenger seat. Why not way back by the hatch door, with the camping gear, any suitcases, etc. Next question: if she likes pot to unwind from stress, hectic days at work, kids, etc. --why would she need it now? She was camping!! That's why you go. To unwind, relax, have a great time. Her sis-in-law said she loved pot and smoked it all the time.. Just doesn't add up to me. I mean, it was all too easy. She didn't have to stop at a store for liquor or a bar. She didn't have to call a "friend" to get drugs. She had everything she needed right there. Because she always had it, IMO. She probably didn't drink at social events because she had it before she left and knew it would be there when she got home. I do that with food so I don't get too hungry and have sweets. Great mom?!? I can't imagine keeping a bottle full of alcohol under a seat with 5 kids under the age of 9 right there. What if she got a call or wasn't paying attention and one of the little ones unbuckled themselves and wondered what was in that bag. That's NOT a great mom. And I'm not even a mom and I think like that!

  8. Here is what happened..she drank too much the night before..she brought the vodka, to ease the long drive home..something happened that gave her alot of physical the hair of the dog turned into the full dog and something real bad happened. She did pull over to throw up at the Ramapo rest stop..why she didnt call a family member then to get her is beyond me. What a tragedy.