Suffolk County Child Protective Services has opened a formal investigation to learn how much Daniel Schuler knew about his wife's drinking and marijuana use the day of the Taconic Parkway crash that killed eight people, including four children, according to three sources with knowledge of the probe said.
The investigation, which began this week, was sparked by a call to state child welfare officials from the Westchester County district attorney's office on Tuesday, the sources said, when toxicology tests showed Diane Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 and a "high level" of marijuana in her system.
The probe will focus on whether her husband had prior knowledge of substance abuse problems and whether he knew she would drive drunk and get high that day, the sources said. They will also want to know whether the health and safety of Schuler's surviving son, Bryan, 5, would be jeopardized.
The probe could result in Schuler losing custody of Bryan, but that would only happen if it could be shown that Schuler knew his wife was going to drink with the children in the car and did nothing to stop her, the sources said.
A medical examiner's report found that Schuler had consumed the equivalent of about 10 drinks, as well as ingested marijuana, shortly before the crash.
State police have said they believe she drank the alcohol sometime after leaving the campground, either while driving or during breaks on the road.
After the crash, Daniel Schuler told state police that his wife was sober when they left an upstate campground in separate vehicles on the morning of July 26. Diane later phoned her brother, Warren Hance, of Floral Park, from her minivan and said she was confused and having trouble seeing.
The purpose of the investigation, according to one source, is "to find out what he [Schuler] knew and when he knew it."
Schuler's attorney, Dominic Barbara, of Garden City, said Friday he understood why the county is investigating Schuler, but expressed confidence his client would not be charged.
The county, he said, has a duty to investigate whether Schuler knew his wife was drunk when she drove her daughter and three nieces.
"I think it's absolutely proper under the circumstances," Barbara said.
Daniel Schuler could be found negligent if he allowed her to drive the children home even though he knew she was drunk.
"We know there's not going to be any problem," Barbara said.
State police investigators initially said alcohol was not believed to be a factor in the crash, and there was widespread speculation that a medical condition might have caused Schuler to become disoriented before she drove onto the Taconic via an exit ramp.
A broken vodka bottle was found in the burned vehicle; a medical examiner's report ruled out an aneurysm, stroke, or heart attack. The autopsy also found undigested vodka in her stomach, according to the Westchester medical examiner.
Spokesmen for the Westchester district attorney's office and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which administers the child welfare hotline, declined to comment on the child protective services inquiry.
Dennis Nowak, a spokesman for the Suffolk Department of Social Services, said he could not, by law, speak about any ongoing investigations. He said, generally speaking, that formal child fatality reviews, as they are called by the agency, must be completed in 60 days and are then submitted to the state, which then produces another report in six months.
Nowak said investigations into whether one child's caretaker knew about another's substance abuse were common.
"Is there some situation where a caretaker in a household knew about another caretaker's drug and alcohol use and put children in danger by not taking proper precautions? That is a situation we would look into," he said.
Bryan remains at an upstate medical facility, where Jay Schuler, Daniel's sister-in-law, said Friday that he is "progressing" in his recovery.
The crash killed the Schulers' daughter, Erin, 2; and nieces Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5; and three men from Yonkers. The nieces were Hance's daughters.
New York State Police said Thursday that Daniel Schuler and Barbara turned away investigators who arrived for a prearranged interview and that Schuler has provided only "limited information."
On Thursday, Daniel Schuler tearfully repeated at a news conference that his wife was not an alcoholic, saying that he "never saw her drunk since the day I met her." Barbara said a variety of seemingly unconnected medical issues may have led her to drink or become confused, including a tooth abscess, diabetes, or a mysterious lump on her leg.
On Friday's "Today Show," an investigator hired by the Schuler family said it had not been proven that the vodka bottle had been in the Ford Windstar minivan when Diane crashed. Alternately, Ruskin said it was possible Daniel Schuler put the bottle in the minivan when he packed it on the morning of the crash.
Barbara, who also appeared on the show, said the sequence of events leading to the crash were "not the actions of someone who was drunk . . . It's not logical."
With Chau Lam and John Valenti