Video: Crash driver's husband wants exhumation

updated 8/6/2009 2:49:08 PM ET 2009-08-06T18:49:08

The husband of a suburban New York mother who caused a car crash that killed her and seven others said Thursday she didn't have a drinking problem and suggested diabetes and other health problems were to blame.

"She was not a drinker. She was not an alcoholic," Daniel Schuler said at a tearful news conference with his sister and lawyer. "Something medically had to have happened."

Schuler's attorney, Dominic Barbara, said Diane Schuler, a 36-year-old Cablevision executive, had diabetes, a suspicious bump on her leg and a mouth abscess that hadn't been treated for weeks before the deadly July 26 wreck.

"I think she had a stroke of some sort," Barbara said. "From the stroke came all the other issues."

Police say Schuler downed more than 10 vodkas and smoked marijuana before driving her minivan nearly two miles on the Taconic State Parkway and slamming head-on into a sport-utility vehicle. Her 2-year-old daughter and three nieces were killed with her, along with three men in the SUV. Schuler's 5-year-old son survived.

Her blood-alcohol level was more than twice the state's legal limit, and she had smoked pot as soon as 15 minutes before the crash, according to toxicology reports from the Westchester County medical examiner's office.

Normal routine before departure
Daniel Schuler said that he never saw his wife drunk since he met her, and that the couple went through a normal routine on the Sunday before he last saw her at a campsite in upstate New York.

"She was fine," he said. "We had a cup of coffee in the morning, we packed the cars up like we always do and we headed out."

Daniel Schuler went fishing for the day, while Diane Schuler began a 140-mile trip home to Long Island with her kids and three nieces, ages 5 to 8. The fiery wreck happened about four hours after she left, and after motorists called 911 to report her erratic driving on several roads.

Barbara said a frequent baby sitter for the West Babylon couple never saw Schuler drink or smoke pot. Her sister-in-law also defended her.

"Family was the most important thing to her," said Joy Schuler, Daniel's sister. "There was no way she would ever jeopardize the children."

The family has not decided whether to seek another autopsy for Schuler and is awaiting more information from the county's autopsy report, Barbara said.

Image: Daniel Schuler, left, with attorney Dominic Barbara
Seth Wenig  /  AP
Daniel Schuler, left, arrives at the offices of attorney Dominic Barbara in Garden City, N.Y., on Thursday. Schuler said he had never seen his wife drunk since he met her, and that the couple went through a normal morning routine the day she died.
The operator of the upstate campground where the family stayed said she noticed nothing amiss when Schuler left at about 9:30 a.m. on July 26 with her son, daughter and nieces.

"I've never seen her with a drink in her hand," Ann Scott, co-owner of the Hunter Lake Campground in Parksville, said Wednesday. "If she had alcohol on her breath, I would have smelled it, believe me."

Scott said her campground does not ban alcohol but isn't a haven for partiers. Scott described the Schulers as "just a normal mom and dad with their kids."

Victims’ kin likely to pursue case
Police said no criminal charges are planned, although relatives of three Yonkers men who died, including a father and son who were driving in the SUV to a family dinner, consulted with Westchester County prosecutors Wednesday.

A lawyer for Michael and Guy Bastardi's family said he wanted to ascertain whether Schuler's family members or others was aware that she had been drinking before the crash, and he suggested criminal charges were possible against anyone who knew about her condition. The attorney, Irving Anolik, told reporters after meeting with the district attorney he detected "a strong fragrance of criminality" in the case.

The relatives likely will pursue a civil case, another family lawyer said Thursday.

"There's a lot of questions that need to be answered, but we don't know if they'll ever be answered" because of the driver's death, said the attorney, Marshall A. Neimark. "We'll never be able to get into the mindset of her ... and I think that's the most difficult thing for the families of the victims."

Meanwhile, he said, the Bastardis' relatives had stressed to him that they were praying for Schuler's son.

Video: Police: Mother in crash was drunk, on drugs Several neighbors of the Schulers and Hances declined to comment Wednesday about what they knew about the Long Island family, saying they didn't want to interfere with the family's privacy.

A psychiatrist said people can often hide alcohol problems from relatives and co-workers, although he didn't have specific information on Schuler.

"They seem to be functional human beings," said Nassau University Medical Center psychiatry department chairman Constantine Ioannou, "until you find out they have been drinking all day long."

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