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Mass for sisters killed in Taconic crash

Mourners gather at Our Lady of Victory Church

Mourners gather at Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park on the second anniversary of the Taconic State Parkway crash. (July 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

Three young sisters killed in a crash two years ago when their aunt, who authorities say was drunk and high, drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway were in the hearts of about 90 people at a memorial Mass in Floral Park Tuesday.

"They're not alone," the Rev. Msgr. Charles J. Nosser said of sisters Emma, Alyson and Katie Hance. "They have the members of their family tree."

Among those at Tuesday's noon Mass at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church was Marlene Rey of Cambria Heights, Queens.

She said she heard about the service Monday night, and while she didn't know the family personally -- she'd seen them at church in the past -- she wanted to pay her respects to the young girls.

"I decided to come to this church for the girls," she said.

The sisters, ages 8, 7 and 5, were killed in a drunken-driving collision in 2009 that left eight dead. They were passengers in a minivan driven by their aunt, Diane Schuler, 36, who was killed along with one of her two children.

After driving the wrong way for nearly 2 miles, Schuler crashed head-on into a sport utility vehicle, also killing three Yonkers men.

Toxicology tests showed Diane Schuler had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent -- more than twice the legal limit -- and had used marijuana.

Nosser spoke of the branches of the family tree, suggesting that members of the congregation find solace in the idea that their ancestors "are taking care of them today," he said.

On Monday, Daniel Schuler, Diane Schuler's husband, filed a lawsuit against New York State in the State Court of Claims in Albany, contending the Taconic and other roads were, among other problems, improperly marked, leading to the crash.

The suit, which does not specify monetary damages, says the state knew the road was unsafe before the crash.

Schuler filed on behalf of the couple's children -- 2-year-old Erin, who was killed in the crash, and Bryan, now 7, the collision's lone survivor.

Schuler last week sued Warren Hance, the three sisters' father, claiming he was liable for the crash because Diane Schuler was driving his vehicle, according to published reports. The suits seek unspecified money damages.

Daniel Schuler has vigorously denied his wife was drunk or high.

But a separate investigation paid for by the Schuler family found nothing to dispute the state's findings, according to a private investigator involved in the case.

Calls to Schuler's attorney, Kevin Grennan of Garden City, were not returned Tuesday. A Hance family representative declined to comment.

Daniel's sister-in-law, Jay Schuler, appeared in an HBO documentary looking into the crash titled "There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane," which aired Monday. It showed police photos of the crash scene, including a close-up of Diane's face after the crash.

Liz Garbus, the film's director and producer, said the use of graphic pictures of Diane Schuler's body was difficult, but useful to viewers.

"I do think what happened that day is a tragedy but we also thought it was important for people to realize how terrible these things are and how difficult car accidents can be," she said.

With Tania Lopez

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