Schuler probe: 'No evidence' of medical examiner error

Private investigator Thomas Ruskin, right, walks with Daniel Private investigator Thomas Ruskin, right, walks with Daniel Schuler, Diane Schuler's husband, before speaking to the media in Garden City. Ruskin said that his evidence proves Diane was drunk and high when she crashed on the Taconic State Parkway. (Aug. 6, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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An investigation paid for by Diane Schuler's family turned up "no evidence" to contradict Westchester authorities' findings that the West Babylon mother was drunk and high when she drove a minivan full of children the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, a private investigator said Wednesday.

The investigator, Thomas Ruskin of CMP Protective and Investigative, had arranged last spring for independent toxicology tests to confirm or refute a medical examiner's report showing Schuler's blood alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit at 0.19 and her levels of marijuana were high.

Ruskin wouldn't say exactly what the new tests showed. But he said: "We have found no evidence of anyone making a mistake."

On July 26 last year, Schuler drove her brother's minivan south into northbound Taconic traffic on her way back from a camping trip, state police say.

Her minivan struck a sport utility vehicle head-on, killing her, her daughter, Erin, 2, and her nieces from Floral Park, Emma Hance, 8, Alyson Hance, 7, and Kate Hance, 5.

The three men in the sport utility vehicle - Michael, 81, and Guy Bastardi, 49, and Daniel Longo, 74, all of Yonkers - also died.

Ruskin's public acknowledgment brought little comfort to the Bastardi family.

"It's nothing new for me," said Michael Bastardi, whose father and brother died in the crash. Ruskin "should have said this a year ago instead of putting us through more agony all this time."

Schuler's family has insisted an unknown medical condition must have caused the crash.

Her husband's attorney, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, arranged a deal with an HBO-affiliated company, MF Films, to pay for exhuming the body.

The exhumation has not yet taken place. HBO did not return calls.

Ruskin said he disagreed with involving HBO, but said the film did not influence his decision to talk publicly about Schuler's level of sobriety.

He said he "will have nothing to do with the HBO film."

Barbara did not return calls.

Ruskin said he is still investigating the case but is not being paid by the Schuler family any longer. He said he believes something caused Schuler to get drunk and high that day, but he wasn't able to reach any firm conclusions.

"This may be one of those cases where you don't know all the answers," Ruskin said.

The Bastardi family has filed a lawsuit and has a private investigator of its own looking for answers.

"We will find out happened," said Michael's wife, Jeanne Bastardi. "It may just take a while."

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