Taconic Mom Wasn't Drunk in McDonald's Before Crash: Investigator

Diane Schuler ordered Chicken Selects in the morning

By Jennifer Millman
|  Friday, Nov 20, 2009  |  Updated 12:14 PM EDT
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Taconic Mom Wasn't Drunk Before Crash: Family's Investigator

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Call it the "Chicken Selects" defense.

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It takes a sober person to order Chicken Selects at McDonald's during breakfast hours – or at least that's the latest explanation Daniel Schuler's investigator posits for why Diane wasn't drunk when she killed eight people in a tragic wrong-way crash on the Taconic.

Driver Diane Schuler's autopsy showed she was drunk and high when she drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on the Taconic over the summer, slamming head-on into an SUV and killing the three men in that car, plus herself, her daughter and three nieces.

The family of Michael Bastardi, 81, and his son, Guy, 49, who were killed in the SUV, is suing the Schulers, saying Diane's morning bender caused the crash. But Thomas Ruskin, a private investigator hired by the Schulers, says she was sober all morning and it wasn't a drunken binge that led to the accident.

The proof is in McDonald's, Ruskin says. The investigator told the Daily News that Diane Schuler put in a complex order at the food chain – Chicken Selects, a food not normally served at breakfast – for her son, Bryan. She had to convince the cashier to put it through, reports the News, which required some conversational skills.

"Diane Schuler was very engaging," Ruskin told the paper. "She was so engaging she was able to convince the McDonald's employees to make Bryan Schuler Chicken Selects at 9:40 in the morning."

And she spoke with employees for some time, Ruskin added, so they would've been able to tell if there was something amiss.

"They say that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her," he told the News.

Plus, there's a four-minute surveillance video taken of Diane Schuler at a Sunoco gas station in Liberty a few hours before she barreled into another vehicle that doesn't indicate anything was wrong, Ruskin adds.

The video, obtained from the Westchester District Attorney's office, shows Schuler walking into the gas station, apparently unperturbed. 
 

"The tape shows Diane Schuler was in full control and absolutely normal," Ruskin told the News. "She isn't staggering. These are not the images of a drunk or high woman."

The video also shows her red minivan pulling out of the gas station lot, but she isn't driving erratically.

Brian Sichol, an attorney for the Bastardis, isn't buying the McDonald's defense, which he calls another in a long line of desperate yet futile attempts to prove Schuler's innocence – and doesn't believe the gas station surveillance video proves anything.

"Just because Diane Schuler is not passed out on the floor of McDonald's or the gas station does not prove that she wasn't drunk three hours later," Sichol told the News. "We don't need all these silly theories. We have science. Science tells us that Diane Schuler was drunk and high" at 1:35 p.m., the time of the crash.

Initial toxicology reports indicated the Long Island mother of two had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit and had smoked marijuana as early as 15 minutes before the devastating July 26 wreck on the Taconic.

Daniel Schuler, Diane's husband, and his attorney have repeatedly denied allegations that Schuler drank or was a drug addict. Two weeks ago, it was revealed, however, that Diane and Daniel had two strawberry daiquiris two nights before the fatal journey and her sister-in-law said that she smoked marijuana regularly to combat stress.

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