Two hours before Diane Schuler drove the wrong way on an upstate parkway, killing herself and seven others, a motorist saw someone who looked and dressed like her doubled-over on the side of the road, "with her hands on her knees as if throwing up," according to a state police report released Monday.
A half-hour before the July 26 Taconic State Parkway crash, the West Babylon mother was incoherent - "out of it" - on the phone with her brother, Warren Hance, whom she mistakenly called "Danny," the name of her husband, the report said. In a separate call minutes earlier, Hance's wife, Jackie, could hear her three young girls crying in the background.
And just before Schuler smashed the Hances' minivan head-on into an oncoming sport utility vehicle, "she had a look of sheer panic on her face," a witness whose vehicle just missed being hit told police.
The New York State Police investigative report - released Monday by an attorney for two Yonkers victims - revealed disturbing and heartbreaking new details about the crash in which Schuler, 36, died, along with her daughter, Erin, 2, the Hances' three daughters - Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5 - and three Yonkers men in the SUV - Guy Bastardi, 49, and his father, Michael Bastardi, 81, and Daniel Longo, 74. Schuler's son, Bryan, 5, survived. Kate had a "faint heartbeat" after the crash but died at a hospital, the report said.
The report upends the Schuler family's recent portrayals of Diane Schuler as a loving, responsible mother who did not get drunk or high. In fact, before toxicology results showing Schuler was drunk and high on marijuana during the crash, her family told police that she drank socially and smoked marijuana "on a regular basis."
Schuler's sister-in-law, Jay Schuler, told police on July 31 that Schuler "didn't believe in medicine and used marihuana [sic] to relax. She usually would smoke at night after the kids would go to bed," the report said. Her husband, Daniel Schuler, told police the same day that "she smoked marijuana once in awhile to relieve the stress of work and the kids."
On Route 17, on Diane Schuler's route back to Long Island from a Sullivan County camping trip, three witnesses, whose names were redacted, told police they saw a red minivan with children inside pulled over and someone who looked like Schuler sitting outside the vehicle, the report said. One witness said she seemed to be vomiting.
The police report also does not mention medical theories offered by Daniel Schuler's attorney, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, who has said Diane had diabetes, a major tooth abscess and a lump on her leg. Before Barbara's involvement, Schuler's family told police she "was in excellent health and had no medical conditions," the report said.
Barbara did not return a call.
Thomas Ruskin, a private investigator for Daniel Schuler, said he doubts the woman the witness saw vomiting was Diane Schuler. "Even if it was, it goes to verify what the Schulers have been saying all along: that this was a medical event, not a drinking episode," Ruskin said. "If she vomited, her body wouldn't have metabolized the alcohol."
Ruskin said Jay Schuler remembers only telling police that Diane smoked marijuana "occasionally" until her second child was born two years ago.
Brian Sichol, the Bastardi's attorney, obtained the police reports Friday from the Westchester district attorney's office. State Police did not return calls.
The report also said Warren Hance did not call police right away after the 1:10 p.m. call from his daughters ended, but instead picked up his father nearby in Floral Park and drove toward Tarrytown, where he believed the minivan would be, the report said. Jackie Hance called police at 1:40 p.m., five minutes after the crash.
"If only they would have called police right away," said Sichol.