In 2009, on a sunny Sunday just outside New York, Diane Schuler was travelling down the Taconic State Parkway with her son, her daughter and her three nieces.
She was driving at around 85 miles per hour, along the wrong side of the Parkway, for 1.7 miles. Diane hit another car head on, forcing it into another vehicle on the road.
Eight people died that day.
Why did this accident happen? What possessed Diane to enter a one way exit ramp clearly marked ‘Do Not Enter’? Why, when she was travelling with five children in the car, was she reported to be driving aggressively?
Diane was a 36-year-old account executive, bringing home around $100,000 at the time of the crash. People who knew her reported her to be a devoted mother and wife, and a credit to her job. Her and her husband Daniel had two children, five-year-old Bryan and two-year-old Erin.
On the day of the incident, the Schuler family had been driving back from a weekend away at their Long Island property.
On 26th July, 2009, Diane left the camping ground at 9:30am with the five children, driving a red Ford Windstar. A witness at the camping ground who had met Diane several times before stated that she saw her leave, and that she looked to be sober and acting completely normal.
During the journey, Diane stopped off at a gas station and attempted to purchase over the counter pain relief, but the store didn’t sell it. At 11am, Diane and her party were back on the road, driving along Interstate 87.
After the incident, witnesses reported seeing a red minivan driving aggressively shortly after 11am, tailgating cars, flashing its lights and straddling the lanes.
At 11:37, Diane called her brother, Warren Hance, the father of Diane’s three nieces travelling with her, telling him they were stuck in traffic. Minutes later, Diane was spotted on the side of the road, bent over with her hands on her knees, as if she was throwing up. She was reported to be in the same position a short time later at a separate rest stop.
Around 1pm, another call was placed from Diane’s phone to Hance. He reported that he spoke to one of his daughters, who said that her aunt was having trouble seeing and speaking clearly. Diane then spoke to her brother telling him she felt disoriented and couldn’t see clearly. Police have now reported that Diane was pulled in at a rest stop when she made this call. Her brother told her to stay where she was and that he would come to meet her, however follow-up calls he made weren’t answered.
There was a lot of mystery surrounding Diane’s phone, as it was never found with the wreckage, however it was later located on the side of the road, giving the impression that Diane threw the phone out of the window after speaking to her brother.
At 1:33pm, two separate drivers called 911 to report that a red minivan was heading towards the exit ramp of the Taconic State Parkway. The end of the exit ramp was clearly marked as one way, and no exit, however Diane continued driving.
Within the next minute, four motorists called 911 stating that a car was driving the wrong way down the parkway.
After just under two miles, Diane’s Ford Windstar collided head on with a Chevrolet TrailBlazer at 85 mph. The Chevrolet ricocheted on impact and struck another vehicle.
Diane, her daughter and her three nieces all died in the crash. The three passengers of the TrailBlazer also died, bringing the total to eight. The passengers of the third vehicle survived with minor injuries. Diane’s son, Bryan, survived the crash with a severe head trauma and broken bones, and was left recuperating in the hospital for three months.
Just days after the crash, toxicology reports conducted on Diane’s body shocked everyone who knew her. It was found that Diane had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, with the legal limit being 0.08. The toxicologists also found strong levels of THC in Diane’s bloodstream.
Her family, particularly her husband, immediately disputed these results, explaining that Diane rarely drank to excess, and that she would never have put her children in danger. Her family admitted that Diane regularly smoked marijuana, as it helped her fight her insomnia, but denied that she had been smoking or drinking on the day of the accident. Several witnesses who saw Diane that day also stated that she seemed completely sober.
Diane’s toxicology reported was repeated in 2010, and the same results were returned. This meant that during the hours of 11am, when she left the rest stop, and 1:30pm, Diane consumed the equivalent of 10 drinks and smoked marijuana.
Diane’s family continue to reject the toxicology reports, and fight to clear her name. In the media, Diane has been presented as a super mum on the outside, but a closet alcoholic and drug addict underneath. Sadly, it seems as though we’ll never really know why Diane drove the wrong way down the interstate, without realising it, for almost two miles.
Eight people lost their lives that day, including Diane herself. The only good things to come out of this terrible accident was a heightened awareness of the dangers of a hidden addiction, and a foundation set up by the Hence’s, which supports young girls to realise their full potential.
When did you first hear about this case? Do you think that Diane was secretly intoxicated? Or could it have been a medical condition which caused her to crash?