Monday, February 20, 2017

Mystery Monday: Diane Schuler

It's Monday, which means it's time for another...

***Warning: Today's mystery involves the deaths of children.***

Today's story starts and ends on the same day: July 26, 2009. It began at 9:30 a.m., when Diane Schuler left the campground where she'd spent a relaxing weekend. In the van with her were her two children, ages 2 and 5, and her brother's three daughters, ages 5, 7, and 8.

Her husband, Daniel, left the campground around the same time. The drive home should have taken only 35 minutes. She drove a 2003 red Ford Windstar, which looked something like this:

Soon after leaving the campground, Diane stopped at McDonald's for breakfast. The cashier at McDonald's recalled Diane and said everything seemed normal. The police confiscated video footage with a timestamp that verified she was inside the restaurant around 10:00 a.m. They confirmed there were no obvious signs anything was wrong in the footage.

At 10:46, Diane was caught on surveillance video at a nearby Sonoco. She parked at a pump and went inside.

Image credit: There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

Although there's no audio on the footage, the clerk said she asked for pain reliever after not being able to find it in the aisles. There were no indications anything was wrong in the Sonoco footage, either.

Image credit: There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

Soon after she left the station, drivers reported seeing her driving aggressively. She was tailgating, honking at other drivers, and weaving in and out of lanes. At approximately 11:45, a driver reported seeing her at the side of the road. She appeared to be sick.

Diane and one of her nieces

Around 1 p.m., Diane called her brother (and the father of the three girls in the car with her) to say they were delayed. He later said she didn't sound like herself. He spoke to one of his daughters, who said, "There's something wrong with Aunt Diane." She said her aunt was having trouble seeing and speaking incoherently.

Diane's nieces

All further calls went to voicemail. Her phone was later found on a barrier. For reasons unknown, she stopped and set it on a guardrail just after the Tapan Zee Bridge tolls. Soon after, she got off the highway, veering from the route that would have taken her home.

Tappan Zee Tolls

At 1:33 p.m., 911 began getting calls about a van going the wrong way on the exit ramp. The van traveled 1.7 miles on that ramp before colliding with a Chevy Trailblazer. Diane was reported as driving as though nobody else was on the road, staring straight head without flinching as cars honked, flashed their lights, and drove off the road to avoid hitting her. The occupants of the Trailblazer (81-year-old Michael Bastardi, his 49-year-old son Guy, and their friend, 74-year-old Dan Longo) were killed. Everyone in Diane's vehicle was killed except her son. He suffered injuries but he recovered.

Diane's blood alcohol level was found to be 0.19. At the scene of the accident, witnesses confiscated a large, smashed, empty bottle of Vodka.

The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08. At 0.19, a person is said to be impaired in the following ways:

In addition to the blood alcohol level, approximately six grams of alcohol were found in her stomach that had not yet been absorbed into her blood. She also had THC in her bloodstream and doctors said she could have smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the accident.

Diane's husband still insists drinking and smoking marijuana is not like her. He questions the autopsy results and believes she suffered some sort of stroke, despite the autopsy showing no signs of that. Whatever happened, though, Diane Schuler's decisions that day led to the deaths of four children and three adults. This photo of the children was taken at camp the day before the accident.

What do you think was going on with Diane Schuler on July 26, 2009?