Wrong-Way Taconic Driver Smoked Pot, Drank Vodka: Cops

A Long Island mother was drunk and high on marijuana when she drove the wrong way on a Westchester highway for nearly two miles before crashing head-on with an SUV, killing herself and seven others.

Diane Schuler had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 -- more than twice the legal limit -- and had high levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in her system when she crashed along the Taconic Parkway on July 26, state troopers and toxicology experts said during a press conference this afternoon.  Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter and three young nieces, ages 8, 7 and 5, were killed.  The crash also killed three men in an SUV, Guy Bastardi, 49; his father, Michael Bastardi, 81; and a family friend, Daniel Longo, 74, all of Yonkers. Only Schuler's 5-year-old son survived.

Toxicology experts said they found a bottle of vodka in the wreckage and Schuler had six grams of alcohol in her stomach -- indicating she was drinking while driving.  Her marijuana use was recent, investigators said.  Levels of THC in her blood indicated she had smoked within 15 minutes to an hour of the horrific crash.

Elizabeth Spratt, Westchester’s chief forensic toxicologist, said Schuler's blood alcohol was roughly equivalent to about 10 drinks.

It is unclear if Schuler had previously been treated for drug and alcohol problems.

Criminal charges are unlikely, but a probe continues, Westchester officials said.

"My office, along with the New York State Police, will continue to investigate the facts and circumstances that led up to the collision causing the deaths, so that the public and the families of the victims can understand what led to this horrific crash," Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore said.

Reached by reporters tonight, the Bastardi family called the deaths of the men in the SUV "murder."

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 a.m. that fatal Sunday. He told police everything seemed fine when they left the campground.  It is unclear if police will re-question David Schuler following today's developments.

Diane Schuler, a 36-year-old executive with Cablevision, was driving south in the northbound lanes of the Taconic for two miles as motorists sought in vain to get her attention; six drivers called 911 before the collision with the SUV.

State police, who have been retracing her route, said 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.

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.

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