One Year Later, Taconic Crash Marked with Tears, Prayers

Bastardi family returned to crash site to mark a painful anniversary

Michael Bastardi Jr. couldn't stop trembling Monday as he made his first visit to the spot on a New York parkway where his father and brother died a year ago, slammed in their SUV by a suburban mother who was driving the wrong way, drunk and stoned.

Bastardi and more than a dozen other relatives pulled their cars onto the grass along the Taconic State Parkway to erect a small monument close to where their loved ones died July 26, 2009.

They put up a small white cross decorated with flowers and a balloon. The names "Dad," ''Guy" and "Dan" were written on the cross, for Michael Bastardi, 81, Guy Bastardi, 49, and family friend Daniel Longo, 74.

"I've seen 100 pictures, but to actually be here is overwhelming," Michael Bastardi Jr. said, his hands shaking. "I really had to get here. I tried a couple of times, but I just couldn't until today. I thought today would be appropriate to actually see it and try to make sense of the whole thing."

The three men from Yonkers were killed in the SUV hit head-on by the speeding minivan driven by Diane Schuler of West Babylon, who had five children with her and was drunk and stoned, according to autopsy results.

Schuler, 36, was killed, along with her daughter Erin and three nieces, ages 2 to 8.

Before driving to the crash site, the Bastardi clan, joined by a few of Longo's relatives, attended Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Yonkers, where the men were parishioners.

The family donated a golden chalice to the church in the men's memory, said Roseann Guzzo, sister of Michael Bastardi Jr.

"We're so glad that something permanent will be here in the church with their names on it," she said.

In his sermon, the Rev. Thomas Valenti said, "A year ago, it was shock, and then anguish and pain" for the families. He said that it could take years for the wound to heal, but that the family would benefit because the men "joined the saints in heaven."

After church, Bastardi Jr. said: "It's a year later, but it sure doesn't feel like a year. We're going to try to get through the day and move on. Things always come up and you can't stop thinking about it."

"It's been a bad year," Guzzo said. "I hate to say I sometimes think it's never going to get better."

The Bastardi family then visited their relatives' graves before heading to the crash site.

There also was a Mass in Floral Park in memory of Schuler's three nieces, Emma, Alyson and Kate Hance. Reporters were asked to leave before their father, Warren Hance, spoke to the congregation. The Rev. John O'Farrell told Newsday that Hance thanked the community and said his daughters were now angels.

"We don't pray for them. We pray to them," Hance said, according to O'Farrell.

Lime-green ribbons were being tied around trees in town, and the girls' family has established a foundation in their name that strives to help other children.

The Bastardi family has sued Diane Schuler's estate. Lawyers for her husband, Daniel Schuler, did not return phone calls Monday. Daniel Schuler has long refused to accept the autopsy findings, arguing that his wife was not a heavy drinker.

MF Films of Brooklyn said Monday that it is planning to produce an investigative documentary about the Schuler case that is likely to air on HBO.

Tom Ruskin of CMP Protective Group, who did some investigative work for Schuler, said he also went to the crash site Monday and placed flowers near the spot on the highway median where Diane Schuler's minivan ended up and burned.

"It was in memory of Diane, Erin, the Hance girls, the Bastardis and Mr. Longo, because a year ago today, they all died," he said. "It is a case that has affected me more than any other I've taken in."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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