Diane Schuler’s Ghost Lives On

What is it about this tragedy that occurred in 2009 that is so palpable these four years later most deadly accidents and their victims are forgotten just months later? Perhaps it is the fact that this was the worst accident in 75 years in Westchester County. Perhaps it’s because five beautiful children were involved, only one of whom survived. Perhaps it is the absolutely unfathomable fact that this ‘rock’ of a mother drove the wrong way down a major highway at 85 mph, drunk and high, and smashed head-on into an SUV, killing the three men in that vehicle as well.

It is, I think the fact that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, about any of this makes sense. There is her husband who relentlessly insists she was not drunk, her husband’s lawyer who mysteriously disappeared, the cacophonous contradiction between everything Diane was known to be and this horrific event and the toxicology reports that clearly and unequivocally reported the alcohol and cannabis levels in her system. Many of us continue to desperately put our heads around what happened on that July day, but sadly, must rely on conjecture and our mostly amateur detective work.

Though there is a sliver of a silver lining for this story, and that is that Jackie Hance, the mother of the three beautiful little girls in the car with Diane that day, the little girls that never came home, has since given birth, despite having had her tubes tied, to another beautiful, and now 17-month old girl. She talks to Anne Curry in this clip from an April Today Show segment. As she says, “there is a reason.” Isn’t there always one?

Diane Schuler’s Ghost

Here we go again. The horrific story of the woman who, with five small children in her car, at 75 mph, drove a minivan the wrong way down a major New York expressway and smashed head on into an SUV, killing herself and four of the children in it as well as the three men in the SUV; the story of the woman who, according to two different investigations, had the equivalent of 10 shots of vodka and a significant amount of marijuana in her system; the story of the woman who, according to her husband,Daniel Schuler, was the perfect mother, worker, wife — simply put, the perfect EVERYTHING: this is the story that has come back to haunt yet again.

Will Diane Schuler’s ghost ever find peace? Will we ever be able to let go of this story, her ghost, that so consumes and haunts us? A recent HBO documentary produced by filmmaker Liz Garbus resurrected the story and made a valiant attempt to help Diane’s anguished spirit find its way home, and our psyches to understand the unthinkable. Did she succeed? Almost. Several years ago Steve Fishman wrote the piece I Dream of Diane for New York Magazine that told the story with a particular focus on her husband, Danny.

Let me recap some of what I saw of the highlights of these pieces. First — Diane was a mega-control freak. She took care of everyone and everything. She was type-A to the max. She honked her car horn, she went to the grocery store and came home with cars, and she mothered her husband. She would not go to doctors or dentists (the latter after a painful and unsuccessful root canal from which she jumped up from the dentist’s chair and simply would not return), she worked her way up from a low level job to a high level management position in a cable company. Speaking of which, she made three figures, almost triple her husband’s modest $43,000 annual salary. She also smoked marijuana on an alleged daily basis to help her unwind from this impossible retinue. As for Danny, he idolized his wife to where she could do no wrong. She was perfect, the marriage was perfect, they had no problems, they agreed on everything, blah, blah, blah and a generous portion of malarkey!!

As all great protagonists, it is clear that Diane was cursed with a fatal flaw. I humbly submit to you that hers was her overwhelming controlling nature. On that day, as is most generally known, she had a toothache from hell, no doubt the ongoing story of the unfinished root canal. It is also known that she stopped at a gas station store for analgesics. They had none. Liz’s documentary does a wonderful job of suggesting that because of Diane’s controlling nature, she wouldn’t admit to her pain and set about self-medicating. Perhaps, the film postures, she might have swigged the vodka without a clear sense of how much she was ingesting and before she could get back in control, it was too late. Yet, staying on that fatal controlling path, she would not let go, and with greatly compromised physical and mental capabilities, well — the rest is in the annals.  Do I think she was innocent? Oh my God, no. I do think she made poor choices and those choices were the result of her fatal flaw.

The accident is over, and the lives lost will be forever mourned. But a true demon, even worse than all the worst we can think of Diane, is in the way of her peace, and of ours. That demon is in the human form of Danny Schuler. Listen to Danny in the documentary. Read about Danny in Fishman’s piece. I haven’t yet decided if Danny is delusional, ignorant, or a liar. Perhaps he is a combination of all three. And what the heck is his brother’s sister doing taking a stage center role in all this? Let it go, for God’s sake, Danny. Tell the truth, or at least acknowledge ours. This woman, your wife, was not perfect, your marriage was not perfect, she was a drug addict, and most probably had a drinking “issue.” She did not have a stroke. She did not have a catastrophic medical crisis. Her system was loaded with drugs and alcohol that perhaps hit her extra hard because of the tooth infection. The fact is, Danny, until you admit to your stupidity, naivety, or lies, no one, not the Hances, (God bless them — I cannot fathom what they have been through), the families of the men in the SUV, the rest of your and Diane’s families, and the thousands of us out here who seek the closure you refuse for anyone to have.  Let it go, Danny, and allow your precious, perfect Diane the freedom to rest in peace at last.

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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