"Goodbye! Have a safe trip!"
Those are the last words Ann Scott, owner of the Hunter Lake Campground in Parksville, N.Y., remembers saying to a smiling Diane Schuler as she pulled out of the campsite Sunday morning. She had a minivan full of kids yelling their own goodbyes out the windows as she drove up the red clay road.
Less than a day later, Scott would learn that Schuler, of West Babylon, and four of the children perished, in a horrific crash on the Taconic State Parkway. She began weeping the moment she heard the news yesterday morning, and her eyes were still welling up hours later. She said Schuler showed no signs of any medical problems the whole weekend, and seemed fine and happy upon her departure.
"I remember saying, 'Have a safe trip home.' That's the last thing I said. I never say goodbye. Just, 'Have a safe trip home.' But it wasn't meant to be, was it?" she said Monday.
The Schuler family spent much of the summer at the Hunter Lake Campground, a bucolic Catskills spot where they had rented a space for a trailer for the last two or three years, Scott said. In the summer, husband Daniel Schuler would often make the 2 1/2-hour trek early in the week to go fishing with the children, while Diane would come for the weekend.
They became fixtures among the three dozen or so families that rent spaces for the summer. "We're one big family," Scott said. "Everybody takes care of each other here and we considered the Schulers part of the family."
"They were a wonderful family, they were very well-liked," Scott said. About 5-year-old Brian Schuler, the lone survivor of the crash who is now in stable condition, Scott said, "We're all hoping and praying he's going to be OK. His dad's going to need him and he's going to need his dad."
Scott said the Schulers had been parking their RV on one of the 94 spaces in her campground on a breezy, quiet lake in the southern Catskills, about 30 miles northwest of Monticello, for three years. She described them as warm, friendly folks who fit right in with the family atmosphere at Hunter Lake.
They spent their weekends, she said, swimming, playing at the trailer and fishing - they had a small rowboat to use in the lake. "They always seemed to have some family with them. They're not a party family, not a drinking family. Just good people.
"Right now we're devastated," she said. "You never expect it to happen to someone you know."
The Schuler trailer, shaded by a birch tree, has a hand-carved sign with their name, and plaques with a bear and a moose underneath. A bike, a baby stroller, and a pile of flip-flops and tennis shoes are sheltered by an awning at the front door.
A few yards away sits a pair of tiny red plastic Adirondack chairs, a small yellow ball, and a multicolored umbrella. Mary Ann White of Egg Harbor, N.J., a Hunter Lake neighbor who didn't know the Schulers, was used to seeing the parents and children parading by.
She walked past their trailer when she heard about the crash.
"The little red chair," she said, shaking her head.
With Michael Amon