Though Danny Schuler told State Police his wife, Diane, drank socially and occasionally used pot, her brother's family said Wednesday the news that she had done both, heavily, in the hours before a deadly Taconic State Parkway crash was the "absolute last thing" they expected.
"We would never knowingly allow our daughters to travel with someone who might jeopardize their safety," said Warren and Jackie Hance of Floral Park, in a statement read by Jackie's brother, Stephen Spagnuolo. The Hances' three daughters - Emma, 8; Alyson, 7; and Kate, 5 - were in the minivan being driven by Schuler, who is Warren Hance's sister, and were killed in the July 26 accident.
Authorities say Schuler was drunk and high on marijuana when she drove the wrong way for 1.7 miles on the Taconic in Westchester County before crashing head-on into a sport utility vehicle. The collision killed Schuler, 36, of West Babylon; her daughter, Erin, 2; and three Yonkers men in the SUV - Guy Bastardi, 49; his father, Michael Bastardi, 81; and their friend Daniel Longo, 74. Schuler's son, Bryan, 5, survived.
More questions than answers
Toxicology tests from Schuler's autopsy show that she had a "high level" of marijuana in her system, 6 grams of undigested alcohol in her stomach, and a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, authorities said.
"This toxicology report raises more questions than it provides answers for our family," they said.
New York State Police said Wednesday that Schuler's husband, Danny, and other friends and family have described her as a "social drinker." Only her husband - in a police interview Friday, four days before the toxicology results - said she occasionally used marijuana, police said.
Schuler, in the same interview, said that his wife seemed "fine" before she left the Hunter Lake Campground with the children at 9:30 a.m., police said. He told them he knew of no substance abuse issues or medical problems.
Attorney Dominic A. Barbara, saying he now represents Danny Schuler, announced he would hold a news conference Thursday at his Garden City offices. On Wednesday night, in broadcast reports Barbara said an undisclosed medical condition may have contributed to Diane Schuler's fatal crash. He said he would reveal more details at the news conference.
Investigators said an autopsy had ruled out any underlying medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, to explain the crash.
The campground owner, Ann Scott, described Diane Schuler as "sober as a judge" when she left the site July 26. "Never saw her smoke a cigarette. Never saw her with a drink in her hand," Scott added Wednesday.
Though police said Tuesday that they have received "limited information" from Schuler's husband and brother, the Hances said they have and will cooperate with authorities.
Civil suit possible
Attorneys for the Bastardi family suggested Wednesday that Schuler's family knew more than they have told police and said lawsuits would be filed soon against her loved ones.
"There's a strong fragrance of criminality," said Irving Anolik, a Nanuet attorney representing the Bastardi family. "It's hard for me to believe that the family did not know that this woman had an alcohol problem or a drug problem. This could not have manifested itself all of a sudden out of the clear blue sky on that one Sunday morning."
Another attorney, Marshall Neimark of New City, who also represents the family, said the Bastardis would use this tragedy to speak out against drunken driving.
Neimark said the family could pursue a civil suit against the owner of the minivan being driven by Schuler.
Records indicate the minivan was registered to Warren Hance, Schuler's brother. "If I can prognosticate, it appears that there will be a civil suit," Anolik said.
"They've been given a platform that they didn't ask for, and they intend to use that platform in the hopes of making sure that Guy and Michael did not die in vain," Neimark saidThe Bastardi family and the Longo family met for an hour Wednesday with Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. Anolik said DiFiore did not rule out empaneling a grand jury to consider the case. A spokesman for DiFiore declined to comment.
Stephen Lungen, the district attorney for Sullivan County, said State Police have not presented his office with any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by anyone other than Diane Schuler. Legal experts say charges could be brought in that county because the campground where the Schulers stayed is located there.
With Ann Givens and Matthew Chayes