On July 26, 2009, 36-year-old Diane Schuler killed eight people while driving the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway in New York. Her minivan collided with an SUV, resulting in the deaths of Schuler, her daughter, her three nieces, and three passengers in the other car. Leading up to the crash, it appeared as though Schuler was behaving normally. But when toxicology reports revealed Schuler was heavily intoxicated at the time of the crash, it seemed like an open and closed case of drunk driving. Schuler's surviving husband, Daniel, would spend years denying Schuler was intoxicated and insisting she was an upstanding, if not saintly, wife and mother.
The HBO documentary There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane tracked Daniel's journey to clear his wife's name. The film, however, raised more questions than it answered. Did Diane Schuler have a secret drinking problem? Was she self-medicating with drugs and alcohol? While the answers will never be known for sure, the one silver lining is that the accident contributed to the passing of the Child Passenger Protection Act. In the state of New York, it is now a felony to drive intoxicated with a child in the car. While this won't bring back the eight people lost, it may prevent similar accidents in the future.
Witnesses Report Schuler Was Remarkably Calm While Driving The Wrong Way
Seeing someone speed the wrong way up the freeway would be terrifying, but details from witness reports make the Taconic State Parkway crash even more chilling. Schuler actually looked calm. She had her hands on the steering wheel at "ten and two" and stared straight ahead. Her expression was described as serene. It was as if she was completely unaware she was going the wrong way.
Her Blood Alcohol Content Was Staggering
Though Daniel Schuler would go on to contest the results, initial autopsy reports indicated Diane Schuler was heavily intoxicated at the time of the crash. Her blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, and traces of THC were found in her body. This means Schuler could have ingested marijuana less than 15 minutes before getting on the road.
Schuler Seemed Completely Fine Just 90 Minutes Before The Crash
Part of the reason the official story feels so dubious is that many witnesses claimed Schuler seemed fine just before the crash. Her sister-in-law spoke to Schuler on her cellphone about 90 minutes before the crash and did not notice typical signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech.
This has led to speculation Schuler consumed a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time. Schuler purchased an orange juice at McDonald’s the morning of the crash and a bottle of vodka was found in her car after the accident. Could Schuler have slammed screwdrivers just before getting behind the wheel?
Daniel Schuler's Attorney Attributed The Accident To Just About Everything But Alcohol
Daniel Schuler vehemently denied his wife drank or smoked marijuana before the crash. He claimed the couple had coffee in the morning and packed up the cars as usual. His attorney, Dominic Barbara, floated several ideas to explain Diane Schulers’s erratic behavior, insisting any suspicious toxicology reports could perhaps be caused by a medical issue.
Barbara suggested she could have suffered a stroke or embolism while on the road. He also pointed out DianeSchuler had abscess in her tooth, which could have caused pain resulting in poor driving. Barbara did concede Diane Schuler might have had a drink prior to the accident, but insisted she only would have drank a small amount to raise her blood sugar due to her diabetes. This certainly did not explain the fact her blood-alcohol content indicated she had 10 drinks or more.