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Victims' family: Grand jury should probe Taconic crash

Five members of a Long Island family were

Five members of a Long Island family were thrown from this minivan, which police said was traveling the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway in Westchester. (July 26, 2009) Photo Credit: The Journal News Photo

A grand jury should investigate the Taconic State Parkway crash to determine whether anyone other than Diane Schuler was criminally responsible, victims' family and Westchester district attorney candidate said Thursday.

Despite a New York State Police probe showing Schuler drove drunk and high on marijuana, questions about the July 26 crash still must be answered, said Irving Anolik, a spokesman for the family of Michael and Guy Bastardi, two of the crash's eight fatalities, which included Schuler.

"Grand juries have the power of subpoena, and they can even grant immunity," Anolik said. "I'm strongly in favor of empaneling a grand jury."

Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore's Republican opponent in next month's election, Dan Schorr, also called for a grand jury Thursday, saying whoever gave Schuler alcohol and marijuana could be charged.

"There's no reason to rush to close this case," Schorr said.

DiFiore ruled out a grand jury and closed the crash probe on Aug. 18, saying only Schuler could be charged. DiFiore stood by that decision in a statement Thursday, saying it was "fully investigated."

"Dozens of witnesses were interviewed and reinterviewed, surveillance video reviewed and cell phone records were analyzed," the statement said. "Mr. Schorr's call for a grand jury investigation is inexplicable."

Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, had a blood alcohol concentration 0.19 and "high levels" of marijuana in her system when she drove a minivan full of children the wrong way on the Taconic, crashing head-on into an oncoming sport utility vehicle, authorities say.

Also killed was Schuler's daughter, Erin, 2, her three nieces, Emma Hance, 9, Alyson Hance, 7, and Kate Hance, 5, and three men in the SUV - the Bastardis and Daniel Longo, 74.

Among the unanswered questions a grand jury could investigate is whether Schuler's husband, Daniel, gave his wife drugs or alcohol before she drove the children back to the Island from a camping trip, Anolik said. He also wants to know why Diane Schuler called her brother, Warren Hance, the father of the three nieces in the minivan, and not Daniel Schuler.

Authorities investigated what Daniel Schuler knew about his wife's alcohol and drug use that day, which could have led to potential charges of reckless endangerment or child endangerment. After initially cooperating with authorities, Daniel Schuler obtained an attorney, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, and told investigators little after that, DiFiore said in August.

Daniel Schuler has not been charged, though Suffolk Child Protective Services continues a child welfare probe as he continues to care for his son, Bryan, 5, who survived the crash. Barbara did not return phone calls Thursday.

Schuler has said his wife rarely drank but has refused to discuss marijuana use publicly, though he initially told state police that she smoked the drug occasionally.

Schuler and his attorney have said medical conditions - not drugs and alcohol - must have played a role in the crash. Calls for a Taconic crash grand jury are not new. Anolik has advocated one since early August, and last month, DiFiore's predecessor, Jeanine Pirro, said on the "Today" show that one could clear up the mystery.

"Let's identify what the facts are and throw everybody in the grand jury under penalty of perjury," Pirro said.

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