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?

53 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. 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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  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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