Westchester ME pushes Schuler family to retest samples

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The Westchester County medical examiner's office urged Diane Schuler's family Wednesday to quickly choose a laboratory to retest her blood and other samples, warning - even as independent experts say otherwise - the specimens could deteriorate over time.

Schuler's family has disputed toxicology tests showing the West Babylon mother had a 0.19 blood alcohol level - more than twice the legal limit - and marijuana in her system when she drove a minivan the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway and crashed into a sport utility vehicle on July 26.

Killed were Schuler, 36, her 2-year-old daughter, three young nieces and three Yonkers men in the SUV.

Her husband, Daniel Schuler, has vowed to have her body exhumed and, separately, to have new toxicology tests performed on fluids and tissues removed during her autopsy. He says an unknown medical condition must have been a factor.

But the office of Dr. Millard Hyland, Westchester's chief medical examiner, said Wednesday that, in the past six weeks, Schuler's blood and tissue samples may have undergone chemical changes that will produce different results when retested.

"The longer Mr. Schuler delays in selecting an accredited laboratory, the more the drug and alcohol levels will change," the office said in a statement.

Of particular concern, Hyland's office said, are results showing the psychoactive substance in marijuana, which decreases over time because it sticks to vial walls, binds to proteins in blood plasma and dissipates during the freezing and thawing of the sample.

Thomas Ruskin, president of CMP Protective and Investigative Group, which is probing the case for Daniel Schuler, said he was "moving with all due diligence in the normal time frame to select a certifiable lab."

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Forensic experts have disagreed with Hyland, saying the results would change significantly only if samples were not preserved properly.

Wednesday, Hyland declined to answer specific questions about how the samples have been stored. The statement said the samples "have been maintained under carefully controlled conditions and in a highly secure location."

A spokeswoman for Hyland, Donna Greene, also declined to say how much Hyland expected the results to change, but the statement said the changes would occur for "normal and entirely scientific" reasons.

Schuler's family is first planning tests on the specimens' identity by matching it with DNA extracted from Diane's toothbrush. A separate process would involve exhuming her body for another look at her organs.

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