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?

63 comments:

  1. Reading this my first thoughts were stroke or some type aneurysm but that doesn't count for the blood alcohol level. Wonder if the son was able to tell them if his mother had been drinking or smoking prior to the wreck? Sad story.

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    1. Yes, and they said no evidence of stroke was found in the autopsy--I assume they would have been able to see if it was an aneurysm, as well? The boy couldn't remember much. All they've been able to get out of him is that his mom was having trouble seeing...

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    2. Maybe she ran out of percosets....withdrawal is brutal and flu like. Whatever it takes

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  2. What a sad story. I can't help wondering if some physical problem caused her to act so erratically.

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    1. Yes...or maybe some emotional problem that led her to drink?

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  3. So tragic. I'm wondering why she had a bottle of vodka in her van - left over from the camping trip? - or did she make another stop?

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    1. Her husband did confirm that they had Vodka in their camper because sometimes they'd make a drink after the kids had gone to sleep. I assume(?) she maybe moved it from the camper to the van? Vodka is a favorite of drinkers who don't want their habit to be detected.

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  4. Maybe she got some sudden, acute attack of glaucoma who made her blind and going out of her mind. She could also have taken the wrong pill or something of the sort.
    It doesn't seem the investigation was thorough.I tend to believe to the husband.

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    1. Oh, the investigation was VERY thorough. Sorry if I didn't convey that! They found no signs of any health issues in the autopsy and a blood alcohol level that was more than double the legal limit. Actually, the autopsy results are available online if anyone would like to read them:

      http://www.autopsyfiles.org/reports/Other/schuler,%20diane_report.pdf

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  5. Possibly a reaction to the pain medication she bought that caused her to act irrationally????? Those poor kids. They must have been so scared.

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    1. Could be...at that particular location, they didn't sell pain reliever (which I find odd, since they have SO many aisles, but I guess not all convenience stores sell it!). But that doesn't mean she didn't stop somewhere else. And alcohol can react to pain medication, I believe? Although I also read that when you mix marijuana and alcohol, it can increase the effects of alcohol--not that her blood alcohol level alone wasn't enough to push her to behave erratically...

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  6. I think she may have smoked weed for the pain she was experiencing. The alcohol mixed with that might have caused the sporadic actions she took.

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    1. That's what a lot of theories I've heard say. I think the big mystery is what caused her to drink that much while driving children around? Why not get them safely home, THEN drink?

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  7. What a tragedy. It sounds like she went completely out of her mind. Something's there that they haven't found. Sad.

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    1. They wouldn't have been able to see anything emotional/chemical that was happening--only physical. I'm guessing something drove her to drink that much with kids in the car (including her own). It had to have been some sort of mental break...

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  8. This is another scary one.

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  9. I remember when this happened. It's incredibly sad that innocent people/children were involved.

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    1. I actually first heard about it in one of Stephen King's books--he wrote a short story based on it. Then it showed up on one of the podcasts I listen to and I had to learn more!

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  10. This is very strange because, from what I am gathering she did not have a history of alcohol or pot use. I am wondering if she was hypoglycaemic. I am and one can get bad headaches, slurring of speech, anger, irrationality, blurred vision...all of this. If she was undiagnosed, she could have smoked up or drank alcohol thinking this would help because it gave her a momentary sense of normal only to come more crashing down. A few years back there was a woman also on the 401 freeway driving horribly and they were able to stop her. It was found she had a hypoglycaemic attack. The only way to test for this is a 6 hour test and she would need to be alive for this. She may have gone undiagnosed. I wonder if she was eating all the wrong foods, drinking more, sleeping anywhere she could. If you look it up, you will see how strongly it can affect people. The body produces too much insulin so ones sugar level goes way up but then crashes fast. A strict diet of no caffeine, no sugar and no starch is the best way but I bet, millions go undiagnosed.

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    1. Interesting! So her blood alcohol level could have been falsely elevated by that? She actually did have a history of pot use, but not abuse...just light use before bedtime, I believe? And she drank, but she wasn't known to be an alcoholic. Although these days, how can you tell? So many people drink to what I see as excess, it's become almost normal for someone to drink every day.

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    2. I was thinking this as well. My son has Type 1 Diabetes and when first diagnosed (age 11) was acting very erratic. Had headaches, lack of sleep one day, and weak and lethargic the next. It really messed with his glucose levels & body. With her being overweight she may have been diabetic or pre-diabetic and didn't know it.

      I also heard about a person that was pulled over for drunk driving once, but never had anything to drink in their life. Ended up being an allergy to yeast. Their body was not able to process it. It is called Auto-Brewery Syndrome. When yeast gets trapped in the digestive system and causes the body to covert common carbs into alcohol. She did stop at a McDonalds that morning. Wondered if maybe she suffered from something like that, combined with the pot.
      So tragic and sad for all.

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  11. What a tragedy! I do think there was something more happening. There is likely a lot of background we don't know about to make a proper theory.

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    1. Yes, even with all of the interviews they did of family and friends, something doesn't add up. I suspect the husband knows more than he's saying--but he had to deal with lawsuits from victims' families, so it was to his benefit to deny that his wife could have been in any way at fault.

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  12. I remember Law one of the Law and Order shows did a story about this, even though they said it was fictional. Still so sad that so many lies were lost.

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    1. I suspect if I watched Law & Order, I'd probably recognize a lot of the cases!

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  13. So very tragic and sad. Forensics don't lie but you'd have to wonder why she drank like that with kids in the car, particular if she wasn't an alcoholic.

    Only a day ago, in Perth, there was a 45 year old guy driving in a very erratic manner. He was going off the road knocking down things in his path, then he was aiming directly at oncoming cars which had to desperately swerve off-road to get out of his way. It ended up where he hit an oncoming car head-on killing the 61 year old driver. Her passenger is in a critical condition and HE is also in a critical condition after he went threw the windscreen because he wasn't wearing his seat-belt. One of the drivers in one of the cars that had to swerve out of his way said that the guy was bouncing about in his seat and seemed excited and happy at what he was doing.
    You can read about it and see the footage caught on a witnesses dash-cam at this link - https://goo.gl/gSqtr1. Quite scary to watch.

    It makes me wonder what he was on? I feel so bad for the innocent woman who died at the scene.

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    1. PS - There will be a short advertisement before the footage is shown.

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  14. What a terrible, heartbreaking story. It's difficult to read.

    Pat
    www.patwahler.com

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  15. This is so sad! I wonder if she had a stroke and that made her drink and smoke? Very horrible!

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  16. I couldn't even imagine what went on. It was so unlike her character assessment from her husband, all very strange.

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  17. I remember this from the news and I think Dateline or a similar show did a story. It was so sad and I think she was having more trouble than just the weed and vodka. Sad for her family to have doubts about her. No one will ever know what was happening to her.

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  18. i remember hearing this story - how tragic and sad. i could not even imagine what really happened, i don't think we will ever know the whole story. so sad for everyone involved!!!

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  19. So sad - I remember hearing about this. I guess maybe we'll never know for sure. Hopefully her son has been able to mend mentally from this tragedy.

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  20. Oh wow, that's so sad and also so strange. Obviously there must be more to the story that was never figured out because that's not normal behavior. I just can't see someone who didn't have a history of acting erratically putting a bunch of kids' lives in danger unless she had something going on physically causing it or unless something suddenly made her completely lose it. But what could possibly cause that kind of reaction during such a brief car ride?

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  21. Ohhh, this is so sad, and even more strange for not knowing the whole truth behind what happened with Diane and what caused the erratic and strange behaviour, especially when you hear of her husband questioning the results, that must have been very difficult for him to take in, especially with the associated deaths as well, what a horrible situation to be in and so sad too for all involved. The thing that gets me the most is that photo of the kids the day before the accident - always really hits you when you see such happy moments before tragedy strikes. Difficult to read this one, especially because it still seems shrouded in mystery. - Tasha

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  22. What a sad story. All those darling kids.

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  23. Wow. I feel so badly for the children and their parents. I'd love to know what Diane's son said happened. Surely if his mom was doing marijuana or drinking, he would have noticed.

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  24. Oh, how terrible & sad! At least there was one survivor. =(

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  25. Whoa! I do know that alcohol and THC are both central nervous system depressants, so they have a synergistic rather than additive effect, meaning that low doses of both can cause big impairment. A BAC of .19 could be bad enough on its own but add in THC and the impairment explodes. Maybe the substance use was uncharacteristic, but blood doesn't lie. I'm curious about the pain reliever angle.

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    1. ^^^I think this is likely the most accurate summation of what the issue was. When combined, those two are very dangerous, and it sounds like you really know your stuff! The convenience store didn't sell pain reliever...I wonder if the "headache" was a result of all that alcohol? Either way, I doubt she got pain reliever unless she stopped somewhere afterward that wasn't documented.

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  26. oh wow. It's always extra sad and creepy when a good person stars behaving erratically for no reason causing a tragedy. I would imagine a medication mixed with alcohol had those effects. :(

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  27. What a horrible tale! My guess is that she drank in secret since the husband questioned the results. Isn't vodka supposed to be harder to smell on one's breath? I suppose the deeper mystery might be: what was driving her to drink and use drugs?

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  28. What would have driven her to do such a thing on that morning, of all mornings? And where did she get the alcohol? It seems really odd to me that she'd do such a thing in front of all those kids when she was so close to home where she could have continued to maintain her (potentially secret) use and not put anyone in harm's way.

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  29. Who would do this with all those kids in the car? This is just awful.

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  30. That is just awful. I'm sure plenty of people wonder why...and how was she hiding this addiction? At least I'm assuming it was an addiction. I can't imagine anyone would just choose to do drugs and drive children around.

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  31. People drinking do not belong behind the wheel.

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  32. Hi Stephanie! This tragedy sounds like something I'd see on Dateline or 48 Hours. How frightening for those children in the car with Diane!
    I really don't know what happened of course, but no one could force her to take those drugs. She may have gotten a tampered package of pain reliever too. Oh my...just too sad.

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  33. I remember this all over the news after it happened. So horrible. I think the woman was fighting demons and keeping it from her husband.

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  34. Just coming back across to say thanks for the lovely comments all of the time Steph! - Tasha

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  35. So tragic. Who can say? :( Hope the remaining family and boy can heal emotionally. <3

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  36. I don't really understand how the toxicology results fit, but it seems weird that the niece would only have said, "There's something wrong," instead of "Aunt Diane is drunk off her gourd and we need help."

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  37. This is such a tragic and sad story. I feel there must be some medical problem with her but what confuses me is why she didn't stop and call for help, knowing that she had children in the car. Nobody can be so irresponsible, which leads me to the guess that she couldn't even think logically.

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  38. Sorry if this comment is too late, but I just watched the HBO documentary on this, "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Jane," and find it no less a mystery today than it was back in 2009-10. After seeing the documentary, most commenters seem to blame the husband, Daniel, for turning an obvious drunk-driving incident into a mystery out of some pathological sense of denial, but I think he and some other family members have a point when they say, even were she drinking, the amount and way in which the autopsy indicated she was doing it is inexplicable and out of character. Even the worst alcoholics don't normally do this, and Diane Schuler was both a perfectionist and loving mother who, if she were indeed an alcoholic, had until that day hid it so succcessfully even her best friend didn't know she drank more than occasionally. Why would she forfeit all control that day, and with children in the car? The facts DO leave fairminded people scratching their heads and wondering what really happened. Something was wrong here, and whatever it was that led up to this tragedy, nobody's yet fully explained what.

    And for what it's worth, reading the autopsy left me with yet another mystery within the larger one: Why does it say the dead woman had long, light brown hair when photos of Diane, as well as the video taken that day at the Sonoco, show her with short, dark hair? Did she wear a wig, or what?

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    1. People with alcoholism can hide their addiction from even their closest of family members. My father was an alcoholic for 35 years and no one in my family ever saw him take a drink not a single one. This is very tragic but I think the best thing for everybody would be to accept the facts. As far as a stroke or some undiagnosed mystery illness I don't buy any of that. For a few reasons. Not only was there a bottle of vodka in her vehicle which could be argued that she was transporting it back and forth from the campsite and not actually drinking it. But there was alcohol found in her stomach. Alcohol that had not even been digested yet still sitting there waiting to be absorbed. So from what I understand her husband is thinking that's so out of characteristic for her that something other than her wanting to drink caused her to put that vodka in her stomach a mental breakdown the stroke caused her to drink the Vodka I've never heard of such a thing he's in denial he struggling he's grieving and he's trying to make sense out of something but the answer is obvious.

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  39. I've studied this case for awhile....the accident happened pretty close to where I lived at the time. The autopsy results don't lie....she was full of alcohol and weed. People who knew her say that's out of her character, though the husband and SIL both admitted she smoked weed and drank occasionally. My theory is that something happened that morning between her and her hubby--an argument of some sort, or perhaps she was hiding major depression. One of her character traits that everyone talks about is her desire to always be in control. She wore the pants in the family. The fact she obviously was suffering from PTSD due to whatever happened between her and her mom, along with the pressures of being the breadwinner in the family could easily cause depression. Strange how her brothers had a good relationship with their mom but not her, which leaves me to believe she suffered some sort of trauma as a child involving her mother. My opinion may not be a popular one but here goes....If she was in a ton of pain from a toothache or whatever then out of safety for the kids she would not have smoked and drank with them in the car--it goes against what everyone said about her in regards to being responsible. She would have simply stopped the car and called someone or an ambulance. This woman was experiencing a major psychological break down---which could have been set off further by a possible argument that morning with her husband. There was some rumor going around that he was having an affair, whether or not that is true only he knows. She had a death wish that day. That's why she pulled off the road and left her cellphone behind--turned off actually cause after that it went to voicemail. She purposely left it so none of the kids could call their parents seeing how right before she left it one of her nieces called her mom and said something was wrong with aunt Diane. The alcohol gave her liquid courage to do what she set out to do, plus the weed which was most likely smoked within 15 minutes of the crash. Yeah, her blood alcohol level was high, but I've known people with way higher limits that were still able to function. The thing that matters is her tolerance level--if she was a drinker and had a high tolerance then the alcohol level wasn't enough to make her so out of it that she accidentally caused the wreck. All witnesses say she was driving straight, not swerving at all, eyes looking straight, that she knew what she was doing. If the alcohol and pot made her out of it she would have been swerving like crazy, not able to drive straight and certainly not able to keep her eyes wide open and focused. Now her hubby is doing damage control trying to clear her name....there's a reason for it, maybe so he won't look bad for allowing his alcoholic wife to drive 5 kids home? I don't think anyone will ever really know what happened, but that's just my 2 cents.

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  40. Having family members that have suffered with alcoholism and addiction I can honestly say it makes sense to me why she drinks so much so fast. Apparently it was a 30-minute drive from the campground to her home. It was her only "alone time" away from her husband. She could have been suffering from detox for not being able to drink all weekend with her husband being right there so she could have taken that 30-minute ride home and try to quickly fill up thinking she would be okay cuz it was only a 30 minute drive. I'm thinking she was a closet alcoholic and I think that morning she drank too much too quick because her body needed it and she only had 30 minutes to get her fixed before she be with her husband again

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  41. I've watched the HBO documentary and looked at a lot of commentary on this. Noting on the documentary, there's a brief glance at her 'current medication' list where amidst the opiate pain medicine is Ambien. What a scary drug this is, prescribed for insomnia but induces bizarre behavior in a person who doesn't put themselves in a bed within a certain amount of time where it's safe to fall asleep without consequences. What I call bizarre about the behavior is that it doesn't appear impaired. Unless you know the person otherwise. This is why I've clung to the theory -- how witnesses describe Diane Schuler as driving pin straight and other than the aggressiveness, seemingly in control of her faculties. Pharmaceutical companies are pretty powerful and I can see a powerful squashing of any reference to common and well known medication that could have been associated with such a tragedy. But it would explain a lot that couldn't be explained by anyone who knew this woman-- why she'd ever gulp from a bottle of vodka and then light up a joint as an otherwise responsible parent and aunt. Why she took Ambien in the first place? A mistake, reaching for what she thought was something else in a pill case or desperate for pain relief and not knowing the danger? After ingesting it, all normalcy would have been abandoned as she became super aggressive but still able to drive pin straight.

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  42. I just watched the documentary,sad sad story.
    Maybe the kids drove her out of her mind and she started drinking and smoking. She could have been in a fit of rage. Why didn't the husband take his son with him ? Most guys want their son with them all the time. Maybe they were fighting and she killed everyone out of spite. No one talks about any of this but it's on their minds. Whatever it was it's tragic and nothing with bring anyone back so let it go.

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  43. I just watched the documentary.

    The only thing that makes any sense as to why she would knowingly get that loaded was because she was trying to numb herself enough to be able to wreck and kill everyone in the van.

    I think the most important pieces of information in this case that we don't know and will likely never know is what exactly was said in those phone calls.

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  44. don't mean to sound harsh, but the beautiful children are with Jesus and they are at peace. Its that poor little Brian I feel sorry for, when the PATHETIC father said on the HBO special that he never wanted children and it was clear that he was pissed-off at his wife for leaving him to be a single parent. The only people this is a complete tragedy for is the Hance family and the families of the other vehichle. Can anyone remember Daniel Schuler even once mentioning the loss of his own daughter???

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