Anniversary of the Diane Schuler Tragedy

Perhaps one of the greatest, and most tragic mystery of times is the wrong-way accident on the Taconic Parkway in New York. It happened on July 26, 2009. The wrong way driver was one Diane Schuler whose autopsy showed she was both intoxicated and high on marijuana. She killed 8 people, including the 4 children in the minivan she was driving, 3 of whom were her brother’s little girls.

The Taconic State Parkway is the most dangerous highway in New York

The Schulers went camping just about every summer weekend at Hunter Lake Campground in Parksville, New York  a beautiful spot in the Catskill Mountains. On this weekend, she had her 3 nieces with her and by all accounts, the kids had a great time playing, while the goal for Diane was to relax. Diane was a regular marijuana user, and she did smoke a joint that Saturday before the next tragic day. She and her husband also had a few drinks as they sat by the campfire that evening

Diane had been suffering from an abscessed tooth which was causing her a great deal of pain. She was also stressed by basically being a single parent while her husband worked nights, and the main breadwinner for the family. Pressure!

The story goes like this: After this weekend with her husband, her own 2 young children, and her brother’s 8, 7, and 5-year-old girls, Diane set off in her brother’s red minivan with all the kids and her husband drove away in his pickup with the family dog.

As evidently was the custom on the way home from camping, Diane stopped at McDonald’s with the kids for breakfast. After breakfast she emerged with a cup of orange juice. Shortly after, she pulled into a gas station and went in and asked for Tylenol. They had none. Back on the road, she is said to have driven crazily – honking, tailgating, straddling lanes and flashing her headlights.

By the time she and kids had crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge, (now the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) Diane had called her brother to say they were being delayed by traffic. Also, witnesses recall seeing her bent over by the side of the road and appeared like she was vomiting. Shortly after, her oldest niece called her father and said words that were etched into the kinds of everyone who has ever followed this story: “Daddy, there’s something wrong with Aunt Diane,” who she said was slurring and having trouble seeing.

The catastrophe finally unfolded when Diane got on the Taconic State Parkway going the wrong way. After 1.7 miles, she slammed head on into a vehicle carrying 3 men, a father, his son, and a close friend, all of whom were killed in addition to herself, her daughter and her 3 nieces. Miraculously, her 5-year-old son survived.

The concrete cause of the accident became clear after toxicology tests were performed, and that was that Diane Schuler had a blood alcohol level of 0.19%, 6 grams of which was in her stomach and had not yet been absorbed into her bloodstream. Accident investigators found an open, half empty bottle of vodka in the van. Her blood also contained levels of marijuana.

So that’s all straightforward. But what’s not is the denials made by her husband that Diane had not had any alcohol and her condition must have been caused by her tooth pain or another physical condition. Then there was the sheer disbelief that a woman who was referred to as “Super Mom” would experience such a tragic meltdown. Or was it? Some people believe it was suicide. Others believe she had a black out of some kind.

The bottom line is, we will never know what prompted Diane Schuler to kill herself and 7 others.

So much has been written about this, and here is one very thoughtful and detailed article

There is also the fascinating look at the story in “There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane” documentary.

But What About the Animals?

Photo by Ryan Leeper

I suppose many people will take umbrage with what I’m going to say here, but I think it merits some thought. This morning I read a story about a yacht fire where 3 people and 2 dogs had to jump off and into the water. The story talked about the people’s conditions, but nothing about the dogs. Truthfully, so what about the people, I wanted to know about the dogs.

A plane crash: You always hear how many human lives were lost or saved, but what about the animals on board? Dogs? Larger animals in the cargo hold?  And what about the animals that are saved or fall victim in home fires? Car crashes?

Our dear animals catch short shrift when it comes to being treated as the valuable and precious souls that they are.

Nick DiChario

Reader, writer, life-long mistake-maker

Judith Shenouda

Author of Living Well in Froggy's World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read Aloud; A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way; and Career Success in 12 Easy Steps: A Journal; and Owner of Shenouda Associates Inc., Provider of Technical, Marketing, and Business Communications

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