Sources: Child welfare looking at Daniel Schuler

Daniel Schuler walks with his sister-in-law, Jay, after

Daniel Schuler walks with his sister-in-law, Jay, after he speaks to the media in Garden City. (Photo by Howard Schnapp/Aug. 6, 2009) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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An investigation by Suffolk County Child Protective Services will focus on what Daniel Schuler knew about his wife's drinking and marijuana use the day of the Taconic Parkway crash that killed her, four children and three other adults, sources with knowledge of the probe said.

The investigation, which was confirmed by three sources with knowledge of the probe, began with a call Tuesday from the Westchester County district attorney's office to state child welfare officials after toxicology tests showed Diane Schuler's body had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent and a high level of marijuana in her system.

The probe will focus on whether he had prior knowledge of substance abuse and whether he knew she would drive drunk and get high that day, three sources said. They will also want to know whether the health and safety of Schuler's only surviving child, Bryan, 5, would be jeopardized if he remains with his father.

Although State Police investigators initially said they did not believe alcohol was a factor in the crash, a broken vodka bottle was later found in the burned vehicle and then an autopsy showed that Schuler had consumed the equivalent of about 10 drinks and ingested marijuana shortly before the crash. Undigested vodka was also in her stomach, according to the Westchester medical examiner, who ruled out an aneurysm, stroke or heart attack.

The purpose of the child protective services investigation, one source said, is "to find out what he knew and when he knew it." The probe could result in Schuler losing custody of Bryan, but that would happen only if it could be shown that he knew his wife was going to drink with the children in the car and did nothing to stop her, the sources said.

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 crash killed the Schulers' daughter, Erin, 2; Hance's daughters, Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5; and three men from Yonkers.

The CPS investigation, known as a child fatality review, normally occurs when a child in foster care dies, but a law enforcement agency can request such a review in the case of any child's death.

Schuler's attorney, Dominic Barbara, said his client cooperated fully in his interview Thursday with CPS officials and expressed confidence that Schuler would not be found negligent. "I'm sure nothing will jeopardize my client being the father of the child," he said.

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.

Bryan remains at an upstate medical facility, where Jay Schuler, Daniel Schuler's sister-in-law, said he is "progressing."

Dennis Nowak, a spokesman for the Suffolk Department of Social Services, said the law prevented him from confirming or denying any investigation. Speaking generally, Nowak said investigations into whether one child's caretaker knew about another's substance abuse are common.

Warren Hance told investigators Thursday that "this was the first time he'd heard of her using marijuana," said State Police Lt. Dominick Chiumento, adding that Hance offered nothing new from a previous interview. State Police said Thursday that Schuler and Barbara turned away investigators who arrived for a prearranged interview; Barbara said Friday that his client was caring for his family and the interview would be rescheduled.

State Police have said they believe Schuler drank after leaving the campground. Interviews with witnesses at a McDonald's restaurant in Sullivan County where the family stopped indicate she was not impaired there before she left with the children between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m.

On Thursday, Barbara argued at a news conference that a variety of medical issues may have led her to drink or become confused, including a tooth abscess, diabetes or a lump on her leg.

With Chau Lam, John Valenti

and Keegan Calligar

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