Oprah Challenges Taconic Crash Investigator on Show - NBC New York

Oprah Challenges Taconic Crash Investigator on Show

Investigator says there's no evidence Schuler was drunk



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    Don't mess with O.

    Oprah Winfrey devoted her show yesterday to the Taconic Parkway tragedy, challenging an investigator's insistence that the driver of the doomed minivan was drug and alcohol free at the time of the crash that killed eight people.

    Three months ago, Diane Schuler drove her minivan full of kids into oncoming traffic, killing herself, her daughter, three nieces and the three occupants of the car she hit.  A toxicology report found that Schuler had significant levels of marijuana and more than double the legal limit of alcohol in her system at the time of the crash -- a finding her husband has vehemently denied. 

    Daniel Schuler is so convinced of his wife's innocence that he hired a private investigator to find out what really happened that July day.

    Appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show via Skype, investigator Tom Ruskin insisted Schuler was not an alcoholic.

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    "Every person that we've interviewed, from high school through her adult life, has told us they never saw Diane drunk.  She occasionally did have a drink, but she would even mix it with additional mixer, so she wasn't drunk."

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    Then why was there a broken vodka bottle found at the crash site, Oprah wanted to know.

    "The way the Schuler family describes it," Ruskin said, "she did have a tendency to bring the bottle back and forth because during the week, Daniel would like to have a drink and she was somewhat frugal."

    Oprah cut him off.  "Hold up a second. She would bring the bottle back and forth where?"

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    Ruskin explained that the mother of two would drive a bottle of vodka back and forth from the couple's weekend home upstate to their Long Island home each week so that Daniel didn't have to keep a bottle at each residence. He said that a bottle would last around nine months. 

    Oprah listened to the explanation with her mouth agape, appearing somewhat perplexed by this detail.

    Still, the story is not an open and shut case.

    Warren Hance, brother of Diane Schuler, said she called him during the drive complaining that she wasn't feeling very well, the Examiner reported. Police who first responded to the scene said she didn't appear to have been drinking and didn't smell of alcohol. And then there was the call indicating she wasn't feeling well, and another call made by her niece who said she was afraid of how her aunt was driving.

    After receiving the harried calls, Hance had a friend call 911 to ask operators to track his sister's location via her cell phone, while he drove north to find them. Schuler stopped answering her cell phone and crashed soon after. She traveled nearly two miles in the wrong direction on the highway before plowing head-on into an SUV. Only Schuler's 5-year-old son, Bryan, survived.  

    The 911call was played on the show.

    "I'm actually trying to help a friend right now and I need some information. Their children are on their way home from a camping trip with their aunt. They just called my friend's house in distress saying that the aunt is driving home erratically. They're at a rest center, the best they can understand is they were in Tarrytown or Sleepy Hollow, those are the signes that they saw. The aunt isn't picking up the phone right now."

    The crash occured before anyone was able to intervene.

    Police have not yet released their report on the incident.