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Expert: Diane Schuler should have had hair drug test

Daniel Schuler speaks about his wife, Diane Schuler,

Daniel Schuler speaks about his wife, Diane Schuler, at a news conference outside the office of his attorney, Dominic Barbara, in Garden City. (Aug. 6, 2009) Credit: AP

Westchester authorities should have tested Diane Schuler's hair to find out whether the West Babylon woman who caused a deadly wrong-way collision on the Taconic State Parkway was a chronic drug user, the top forensic pathologist for State Police said Tuesday.

That was one of the lingering questions even after an autopsy report was released Tuesday after a Newsday Freedom of Information Law request. Also unanswered was whether Schuler, whose blood contained more than twice the legal limit of alcohol, had a prior drinking problem, experts said.

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Her husband, Daniel, has denied she was a substance abuser. But Schuler had the equivalent of 10 drinks and "high levels" of marijuana in her blood on July 26, when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic with five children in a minivan and collided head-on with a sport utility vehicle, authorities say. Schuler and seven others were killed.

But an $85 test not done by the Westchester Department of Laboratories and Research could have definitively shown two months of drug history for every inch of Schuler's hair, said Dr. Michael Baden, former New York City chief medical examiner who now works for the State Police. Hair testing would not show prior alcohol use.

"In a case like this, it would be of value to know, did she use marijuana for a long time?" Baden added.

Westchester authorities and other forensic experts said hair drug testing is generally not called for in a vehicular accident, but Baden - who is not involved in the State Police probe of the crash - said the collision's circumstances called for the tests.

"It often isn't done," Baden said. "But when eight people die, that's different. I think it would have been prudent to do."

Donna Greene, a spokeswoman for the Westchester medical examiner's office, had no immediate response to Baden late Tuesday. Earlier, in response to more general questions, she said the county stood by the autopsy.

Irving Anolik, a spokesman for the Bastardi family of Yonkers, which lost two family members in the crash, has advocated hair testing. The lab does not have those hair samples so Schuler's body must be exhumed for future tests.

Several other forensic experts interviewed by Newsday said hair drug tests are hardly ever used in autopsy investigations. "I know of no situation specifically where it's been called for," said Dr. William Closson, a forensic toxicologist with Bendiner and Schlesinger, an independent lab in Brooklyn that works with the NYPD.

Regarding the possibility of alcoholism, the autopsy found that Schuler's liver appeared healthy, with "normal consistency" and no unusual fat deposits or scarring.

"It doesn't mean you can rule out alcoholism," said Dr. Mary Case, the chief medical examiner of St. Louis County, Mo., who said alcoholism is often not detectable in relatively young, well-nourished adults like Schuler.

She noted there are some "experimental methods" that purport to be able to test the liver's fatty acids to obtain a history of a person's alcohol use, but they have not been proved reliable.

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