It was a horrific wreck, a mid-day crash that killed 8 people, among them four young girls. At first police weren’t quite sure why 36-year-old Diane Schuler was driving the wrong way on the highway. Just half-an-hour before the crash, Diane had pulled over to phone her brother, Warren Hance, to say she was feeling disoriented and had trouble seeing. Doing the brotherly thing and concerned for the welfare of the 5 children she had in the car with her, he told his sister to stay put and he would come get her. Yet for some reason, Diane then drove off, even forgetting to take her cell phone, which was left at the roadside stop. Instead of heading south toward home, she drove north-the wrong way on the highway. After driving for nearly 2 miles into oncoming traffic on the Upstate New York highway, her luck ran out. The minivan slammed head-on into a Chevrolet Trailblazer. Three people in the other vehicle were killed. So was Diane, along with her daughter, Erin, and her three nieces: Emma Hance, 8, Alyson Hance, 7, and Kate Hance, 5. Her 5-year-old son, Bryan, was the lone survivor, and was recovering in the hospital with serious wounds at the time of writing this article. He would eventually recover.
As is too often the case, this horrific tragedy wasn’t some rare instance of bad luck or a medical condition gone wrong. In fact, it was entirely avoidable at numerous junctures. Authorities soon got an answer as to why Diane was so disoriented. It turns out; state police say she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 at the time of the crash, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. State Police Captain William Carey said a broken 1.75-liter bottle of vodka was found in the wreckage of Shuler’s 2003 Ford Windstar. Yet
there’s more. Toxicology reports indicated she had smoked marijuana within an hour of the crash. The group had left the Hunter Lake Campground in Parksville, New York, at about 9:30 in the morning earlier that day. So apparently, she was trying to make her drive home more enjoyable by drinking and smoking pot in a car full of children. The crash would happen 4 hours later.
Schuler may have also been the subject of numerous complaints other drivers made to police just prior to the crash. Callers complained that a woman in a red minivan filled with kids driving on Route 17 and also on interstate 87 was “straddling two lanes, tailgating, flashing its headlights and beeping the horn.” If only police had been able to locate her sooner, this tragedy might have been avoided. She’d be in jail, but 4 young kids and four adults, including herself, would be alive and well.
As is often the case in such situations, Diane won’t be around to feel the enormous hurt she’s caused. People like her brother, who tried to act in all the right ways but to no avail, and who also lost his three young daughters in the crash, will. Just thinking about the scope of the loss brings us to tears. The family of the three people in the other car will also live with misery she created. Killed in the SUV were Guy Bastardi of Yonkers, his father, Michael Bastardi, and family friend Daniel Longo. They all had family who loved them too. So much loss, and all so unnecessary.
As if one needed any more reasons NOT to drive while intoxicated, let this serve as yet another example. In this one wreck, Diane murdered more young children than all the registered sex-offenders combined have in many, many years. And she’s not alone. Hundreds more kids will lose their lives in the same manner before the year is through and, thousands more the next. Just something to think about. Perhaps it’s time we started slapping first-time drunk drivers with mandatory life-in-prison sentences too. We’re only half joking. Diane no doubt lucked out and got away with such behavior in times past. Most intoxicated murderers do. But also like most, it’s bound to catch up with them sooner or later.
We advocate productive resolutions in all cases, and so don’t seriously advocate such severe penalties for anyone who makes a mistake. Just want to drive home how serious this issue really is. Before you get in the car intoxicated, ponder this question: If a brought a revolver with one chamber loaded, would you be willing to right there and then put it under your chin and pull the trigger? If you’re not willing to take the risk, then you shouldn’t be willing to get in the car and put someone else’s life on the line either. Call a cab. Call a friend. Crash for the night. Give your keys to someone else. Most importantly, don’t start drinking and/or using drugs when you know you’re going to be driving, especially with kids in the car . . . ever! Not after camping, not after weddings, not even after just a few drinks.
If only Diane had decided not to drive while intoxicated. If only she had stopped and waited for her brother. If only police had tracked her down just a little bit sooner. If only. It’s a question that will plague the thoughts of many people for the rest of their lives. We’re growing weary of reporting on it ourselves. The real dagger in the spine is that there are thousands more Diane’s on the road right now as we speak, waiting for history to repeat itself before they learn their lesson. Don’t be one of them.
Additional note: This story also brought to public attention the phenomenon of closet-alcoholism among women. It’s estimated that one third of all alcoholics are women, and many keep it a secret, even from their close friends and family. If you suspect something, don’t let it slide by unnoticed!