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Authorities: Autopsy offers no explanation for crash

This vehicle was crushed in an accident that

This vehicle was crushed in an accident that killed five from Long Island on the Taconic State Parkway. (July 26, 2009) Credit: 1010 WINS / Sonia Rincon

Authorities found no answers to the Taconic State Parkway crash in autopsy results Tuesday and now face a weeks-long wait for toxicology tests that may provide clues to why a West Babylon woman drove the wrong way for almost two miles before the accident.

The autopsy conducted Monday only deepened the mystery into why Diane Schuler, 36, a seemingly healthy mother taking her son, daughter and three nieces home to Long Island from an upstate camping trip, drove the wrong way on the Taconic Sunday.

Photos: Latest from the fatal Taconic Crash and reaction

Schuler's minivan rammed head-on into an SUV, New York State Police said, killing her, her daughter Erin, 2, and her nieces - Emma, 8; Alyson, 7; and Kate, 5. Three men from Yonkers in the SUV - Michael Bastardi, 81, and his son, Guy Bastardi, 49, and their friend, Daniel Longo, 73 - were also killed. Schuler's son, Bryan, age 5, survived and is in stable condition at Westchester County Medical Center.

Tuesday, the families of the Long Island deceased released a statement praising Schuler as "an accomplished working mother who . . . always put her children before any other priority" and describing the personalities of each lost child. They also expressed their condolences to the families of the Yonkers victims.

Schuler had no known history of medical issues and was taking no medication, police said.

But sometime before the crash, Schuler called her brother, Warren Hance, the father of the three girls in the van, and said she wasn't feeling well, without being specific, police said.

Hance told her to pull over and wait for him to arrive. He then called the New York State Police barracks in Tarrytown and asked them to look for the red 2003 Ford Windstar minivan.

"He wanted the police to find that vehicle because something was wrong," New York State Police investigator Robert C. Bennett said.

Troopers searched 40 miles of roadway for Schuler and the children in the hour before the crash, Bennett said. After 2 p.m., the Tarrytown barracks asked the entire State Police force for help finding the minivan, but by then it was too late, Bennett said.

Westchester County forensic pathologists said Tuesday they ruled out that Schuler suffered a stroke, an aneurysm or a heart attack. "There was no underlying condition," said Dr. Kunjlata Ashar, deputy medical examiner for Westchester County, who conducted the autopsy.

In the next four to eight weeks, Schuler's blood will be tested for evidence of alcohol or drugs, but police said they doubt Schuler was impaired in that way.

Ashar said she will also test Schuler's eye fluid for evidence of heightened blood sugar levels, a common but not routine step. Untreated heightened blood sugar levels can cause ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition causing shortness of breath, nausea and a very dry mouth, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Ashar said eye fluids cannot tell investigators anything about whether Schuler suffered a sudden drop in glucose levels, known as diabetic shock, with symptoms often mistaken for extreme intoxication, according to the ADA.

New York State Police investigators said Schuler's actions reminded them of accidents they've witnessed involving diabetic drivers experiencing blood sugar problems. "I've seen something like that myself," Bennett said. "I watched a woman drive a mile on the Taconic Parkway and suddenly just went off the road. It turned out it was a diabetic case."

Another investigator, Joseph Becerra, concurred with Bennett, but cautioned it was just one of several theories being discussed.

The crash has puzzled investigators because Schuler apparently had driven to and from Hunter Lake Campground in Parksville, N.Y., many times.

With Matthew Chayes

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