Schuler attorney: Taconic driver had 3 medical ailments

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An attorney for Diane Schuler's family Thursday said she had three medical ailments that could explain the wrong-way collision last week that killed her and seven others - even though her husband had repeatedly told police his wife had no health issues.

At a Garden City news conference with his lawyer, Schuler's husband, Daniel, tearfully maintained his wife "was not an alcoholic" and was not suicidally depressed or drunk when she left an upstate campground after her morning coffee on July 26 with five children in a minivan headed for Long Island.

 

Police turned away

But after the session with reporters, the attorney, Dominic Barbara, turned away state police investigators from a prearranged interview with him at his office, police said in an unusual statement. Daniel Schuler has spoken to police without an attorney several times, but authorities said they have received "limited information."

Thursday, however, Barbara "could offer no useful information," police said. "Investigators were not advised by attorney Barbara when Daniel would be made available for an interview."

After the news conference, Barbara also made Schuler available for what his office said would be an interview with a New York City newspaper columnist. Meanwhile, police talked to the family of the three little girls who died in the crash, Schuler's nieces, and said they were "very cooperative."

It was another day of fast-paced developments in the still unfolding saga of Diane Schuler, who authorities say was drunk and high on marijuana when she headed the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway in Westchester and crashed head-on into an SUV. The collision killed Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, her 2-year-old daughter, her three young nieces and three Yonkers men.

 

Husband disputes findings

Daniel Schuler, who broke his long public silence for the first time Thursday since the crash to defend his wife, disputed autopsy and toxicology results that showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit, and high levels of the psychoactive substance in marijuana.

"She was not an alcoholic," Daniel Schuler said. "I never saw her drunk since the day I met her."

He became most emotional when speaking of his daughter, Erin, who died in the crash, saying he cannot put his loss into words. He called Diane "a perfect wife" and said his son Bryan, 5, who survived the crash, was "good, better, getting there."

Barbara told reporters to not ask Daniel Schuler, a public safety officer for Nassau County, about Diane Schuler's use of marijuana, saying he would cut off the questioning.

State police say Schuler told investigators that his wife drank socially and occasionally smoked pot.

The true cause of the accident, however, said Schuler and his attorney, was medical.

Barbara said Diane had a 7-week-old painful abscess on the side of her mouth that she refused to see a dentist for; she had gestational diabetes - a condition in which blood sugar tends to be high - during her last pregnancy more than two years ago; and she had a "lump on her leg."

"Not sure what it was, but it was moving," Barbara said of the lump.

"Something happened here. Something happened to her brain," Barbara said, adding that his client has not decided whether to have a new autopsy conducted. "It does not give me an answer for the alcohol in her stomach or the marijuana that was there. But this is not a woman who would jeopardize five children."

Police said Thursday Barbara's statements were the first they'd heard of Diane Schuler's possible medical issues. Police said Daniel Schuler said in interviews last week that his wife suffered from no medical conditions and autopsy results confirmed that. State Police Lt. Dominick Chiumento said: "We're not aware of any medical conditions at this time."

An autopsy ruled out conditions such as an aneurysm, stroke or heart attack, said Westchester's chief medical examiner, Dr. Millard Hyland. There were no signs of diabetes in her eye fluid, he said.

"I stand behind those results," Hyland said. "I think we did everything we should have done examining those tissues."

Attorneys for families of the three dead Yonkers men have questioned how much Daniel Schuler knew about his wife's substance abuse the day of the crash, but he said Thursday she had no such problem.

Schuler said they had no marital problems and did not argue the day of the crash, the end of a long weekend of camping in Parksville, N.Y. He said he kissed each of the children and his wife goodbye.

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

His sister-in-law, Jay Schuler, said after the news conference that Daniel Schuler left ahead of his wife in a pickup truck with all of the camping equipment luggage, heading home.

"That was their routine," Jay Schuler said. "He dealt with the camping equipment, and she always handled the kids."

On her way home, Diane Schuler had pulled over after crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge and called her brother Warren Hance to say she was lost.

"No slurred speech," Barbara said, adding that one of Hance's daughters got on the phone and said Schuler "doesn't feel well" but nothing else.

With Matthew Chayes

- Click here to see new family photos of the Schulers, and photos from Daniel Schuler's press conference

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