A woman who drove her mini-van for nearly two miles the wrong way on a suburban parkway before crashing in a fiery wreck that killed eight people was seen driving aggressively and erratically long before the fatal crash, state police said Monday.
Diane Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter and three young nieces died in the July 26 crash on the Taconic Parkway in Westchester County after she slammed head-on into an SUV, about 35 miles northwest of New York City.
Three men in the SUV also died. The lone survivors were Schuler's 5-year-old son and the occupants of a third vehicle that was hit by the SUV. They sustained minor injuries.
Schuler and her family had been returning home to Long Island from a weekend camping trip in upstate Sullivan County -- a journey she had made numerous times in the past and a route she was familiar with, family said.
Her husband David Schuler told investigators that he left for a fishing trip and his wife headed for home at about 9:30 that Sunday. He told police everything seemed fine when they left the campground.
Schuler, a 36-year-old executive with Cablevision, inexplicably wound up going south in the northbound lanes as motorists sought in vain to get her attention; six drivers called 911 before the collision. Police have not said how fast the vehicles were going at the time of the crash.
State police, who have been retracing her route, said Monday that witnesses reported seeing her red Ford mini-van on both state Routes 17 and 87. They said the van was straddling two lanes, tailgating, flashing its headlights and beeping the horn.
Others saw the vehicle veering from one lane to another and one witness said it appeared as if she was attempting to pass him on the shoulder of the highway. Another witness said the van drove across a grass divider at the Ramapo service area on Route 87.
State police said while they can't be absolutely certain the driver was Schuler, the description of the vehicle and occupants and the time the incidents were reported "lead them to believe they are one in the same."
Schuler called her brother, Warren Hance -- the father of the three older girls who died -- at about 1:02 p.m., saying she was feeling ill and may have been disoriented. He told her to stay put and he would come to meet her, but she apparently disregarded those instructions.
Schuler's cellphone was found on the side of the highway, just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, on Route 87, where she made that final phone call.
State police also said Monday that they confirmed Schuler had stopped at a McDonald's on Route 17 in Liberty, not far from the campground where she had been staying.
Toxicology results for Schuler are expected later this week. A preliminary autopsy ruled out a stroke, aneurysm or heart attack.
The state police reconstruction unit is also sifting through the wreckage and reviewing other evidence, but the results of that probe are not expected until late September.