Neighbors mixed as Taconic crash details released

Matthew Gatland, 39, a neighbor of Diane Schuler,

Matthew Gatland, 39, a neighbor of Diane Schuler, talks about how surprised he was to learn of reports that Schuler had a high blood-alcohol level when her vehicle crashed July 26 on the Taconic State Parkway, killing herself and seven others. (Aug. 4, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday / Ana P. Gutierrez

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In Floral Park and West Babylon, last week's sadness over the wrong-way collision on the Taconic State Parkway that killed eight gave way to Tuesday's conflicted emotions.

Residents of the two communities Diane Schuler called home struggled as they absorbed the news that the 36-year-old mother of two had been drunk and high on marijuana when she crashed her minivan into an SUV in Briarcliff Manor last month - killing herself, four children and three Yonkers men in a fiery July 26 crash.

-Photos from the fatal crash on the Taconic Parkway

July 29. 2009; West Babylon, NY: Joseph DiTomasso, 5, lays down a flower blossom at site of memorial in front of Schuler family home on 14th Street. DiTomasso went to the same school as sole survivor of crash. Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by James Carbone
-Latest: Officials say Schuler was drunk, stoned at time of crash

"We're all just so upset," said the clerk at Marianna's Bakery in Floral Park, who gave her name only as Maryann. "You didn't think you could feel worse than last week."

In the close-knit village where Schuler grew up, Schuler's nieces were regular customers at the bakery, she said. The girls died along with Schuler's daughter in the accident.

Schuler's neighbors in West Babylon were split between those who clung to the memory of a cautious mother who protected her children and others who were angry that she would put youngsters in harm's way. Schuler's 2-year-old daughter, Erin, died in the crash. Her son Bryan, 5, was the sole survivor.

"It's sickening," said a neighbor, Dave, 47, who declined to give his last name. "You have children in the car, you should have more common sense."

Other neighbors recalled a loving mother who played in the front yard with her children.

"I've never seen her drink, I've never seen her smoke," said Julie Shaughnessy. "I don't believe that. There has to be another explanation."

Matthew Gatland, 39, said drinking and using drugs would be "totally out of character" for Schuler. "It doesn't make sense," he said.

At Floral Park Florists, employee Christina Henrichs, who made the floral arrangements for the coffins of Schuler and her daughter, said she began to have doubts as details of the crash emerged last week.

"You kept hearing things that didn't quite add up," she said. "But you didn't want to think anything bad. It's just shocking."

Floral Park Village police stood guard Tuesday outside the home of Schuler's brother, Warren Hance, whose three children were killed. Signs reading "Do not enter" were set up at both ends of the street.

A sergeant said police were guarding the house to protect the Hance family's privacy.

With Carl MacGowan

-Photos from the fatal crash on the Taconic Parkway

-Latest: Officials say Schuler was drunk, stoned at time of crash

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