A Long Island mother was very drunk, with an extra-large bottle of vodka in her car, and was smoking marijuana before she caused a wrong-way crash on a New York highway that killed her, her young daughter and six others, police said Tuesday.
Diane Schuler's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit at the time of the July 26 wreck and she still had undigested alcohol in her stomach, police said. Blood tests also showed she had smoked marijuana 15 minutes to an hour before the crash, said Betsy Spratt, chief toxicologist for the Westchester County Medical Examiner.
"With that level of alcohol ... she would have had difficulty with perception, with her judgment with her memory," Spratt said. "You start to get what we call tunnel vision."
The fiery head-on crash on the Taconic Parkway, about 35 miles northwest of New York City, killed the 36-year-old mother, her 2-year-old daughter, three young nieces and three men in an SUV. Schuler's 5-year-old son survived. Investigators said Schuler had been driving erratically on other suburban roads before hitting the Taconic Parkway.
State police have been investigating why the businesswoman, who was a regular visitor to an upstate New York campground, would have been driving toward her Long Island home the wrong way on a highway she reportedly had driven many times.
Toxicology reports found Schuler's blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08, state police Maj. William Carey said. She also had six grams of undigested alcohol in her stomach, Carey said.
A broken, 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut vodka was found in the wrecked minivan, Carey said.
Schuler's husband, Daniel, told investigators that everything seemed fine when he and his wife left the Sullivan County campground at about 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the crash. He went on a fishing trip while his wife headed home with the children.
Her brother — father of the three girls who died — said she called him about a half hour before the wreck sounding disoriented and saying she didn't feel well. Her cell phone was later found abandoned at a rest stop.
Witnesses have told investigators that they saw Schuler's red Ford minivan driving erratically — straddling two lanes, tailgating, headlights flashing and horn beeping.
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 a service area.
Six drivers called 911 before the collision, which happened after Schuler drove 1.7 miles south in the parkway's northbound lane.
An attorney who served as a family spokesman at funerals last week did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Floral Park village police blocked access to the home of Schuler's brother and said no one was there to comment. There was no answer when a reporter knocked on the door of the Schuler family home in West Babylon.