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Taconic crash remains a mystery

November 15, 2009 7:44:00 PM PST
Preliminary autopsy results did not find anything medically wrong with a Long Island mother who drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway. State Police investigator Shannon Morrison said Tuesday that the autopsy of Diane Schuler didn't find any conditions like a heart attack or an aneurysm.

Her vehicle plowed into an SUV, killing eight people in a fiery crash. She drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on a familiar highway after telling her brother she wasn't feeling well, police said.

  • CLICK HERE to see images from the scene.
  • CLICK HERE for more on the accident victims.

    The medical examiner was still waiting for toxicology test results.

    Schuler was taking her two children and three nieces - ages 2 to 9 - home from a weekend camping trip in upstate New York before the crash on the Taconic State Parkway, the first fatal wrong-way accident on that road since 2005.

    Authorities on Monday remained baffled why Schuler was driving a minivan in the wrong direction for so long on a road that a neighbor said she had driven many times before; half a dozen people called 911 to report the errant car before the accident Sunday.

    A neighbor in West Babylon said the Schulers went almost every weekend to a camp in upstate Sullivan County. Diane Schuller knew the route so well she could have driven it blindfolded, said Lisa Acosta.

    "I don't understand," said Acosta. "It's a really, really sad thing."

    Schuler had called her brother, Warren Hance, about two hours before the accident, authorities said. He suggested that she stop driving, that he would come and get her and the children.

    "She didn't indicate specifically what was bothering her but obviously something was wrong because her brother did ask her to pull over," said Lt. James Murphy, with the State Police's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

    Schuler instead continued on her way, and got onto the Taconic using a northbound exit but heading south. She crossed over to get into what was the farthest left lane for northbound traffic but for her was the right lane, and drove for 1.7 miles before the collision with the northbound SUV driven by Guy Bastardi, 49, of Yonkers.

    The impact sent Schuler down an embankment, where her car burst into flames. Bastardi's SUV spun out and hit a third vehicle, whose occupants escaped serious injury.

    Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter Erin and Hance's three children - Emma, 9; Alison, 7; and Kate, 5 - were killed. Schuller's son, Brian, 5, was hospitalized at Westchester Medical Center. At the family's request, no information was being given out about his condition.

    Bastardi was killed, as was his father Michael, an 81-year-old Korean War veteran, and family friend Daniel Longo, 74, also of Yonkers.

    The Schuler and Hance families issued a statement on Tuesday expressing their deep sorrow over the loss of five family members.

    "We also extend our condolences to the Bastardi and Longo families and regret the grief this tragic accident has caused," the statement reads.

    You can read the full statement below.

    ---
    WAKE AND FUNERAL INFORMATION:

    A wake for Guy Bastardi, 49, and his father, Michael Bastardi, 81, will be held at the Flynn Memorial Home at 1652 Central Park Avenue in Yonkers from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday and from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Their funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John's the Baptist Church on Yonkers Avenue in Yonkers. They will be buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale.

    No details for services for Daniel Longo.

    Rockville Centre Diocese has released plans for the wake and funeral services for the Schuler and Hance family members:

    WAKE: Dalton's Funeral Home, 29 Atlantic Avenue in Floral Park, Wednesday 2-5pm and 7-930pm

    FUNERAL SERVICE: Our Lady of Victory Church, 2 Floral Parkway in Floral Park, Thursday at 10:30am

    STATEMENT FROM HANCE/SCHULER FAMILIES:

    The Hance and Schuler families would like to express their deep sorrow for the loss of five beloved members of our family. We also extend our condolences to the Bastardi and Longo families and regret the grief this tragic accident has caused.

    Diane Schuler, 36, was a dedicated wife to her husband, Danny, and a devoted mother to her children, Bryan and Erin. Diane was an accomplished working mother who balanced her responsibilities with grace; she always put her children before any other priorities. She was a constant, doting presence in her nieces' lives, and our extended family admired her competence, ease with children and sense of humor. Never has there been a more responsible and trusted friend or caregiver.

    Diane and Danny's daughter, Erin McKeough, was the light of their family. At two, Erin was full of laughter and love. She was very bright, asking questions about everything and beginning to speak in full sentences. Erin enjoyed books, pictures and animals; she was a bright and exuberant girl who loved to blow bubbles and gave her family great joy.

    Eight-year-old Emma Alexandra, the oldest daughter of Warren and Jackie Hance, was equal parts scholar and athlete, with honors in Math and Reading as well as gymnastics, soccer, track, basketball and softball. She also loved performing onstage. Emma took her role as the oldest sister very seriously, looking out for her sisters and setting the perfect example for them: polite, helpful, caring and warm.

    Alyson Elizabeth, the middle Hance daughter, had a smile that would light up any room. She was protective and nurturing, vivacious and joyful. At 7, Alyson also excelled at both school and sports, enthusiastically taking part in soccer, softball and gymnastics. She was a smart and loving girl for whom acquaintances became friends instantly and joyfully.

    The youngest Hance daughter, Kate Marie, known to many as Katie, was very mature for her age - inquisitive and self-assured. As all the girls were, Katie was adored by her sisters and her extended family. She loved to dress up and had many, many friends, both boys and girls. Katie was a loving, confident, completely adorable five-year-old who embraced life and wanted nothing more than to bring happiness to her friends and family.

    One great blessing amid our sorrow is that Bryan Schuler, also 5, survived the accident and is in stable condition. He is surrounded by his family and his doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.

    We extend our deepest gratitude to the members of Westchester's Law Enforcement Agencies and Fire Department who responded immediately and fearlessly to the accident, and also to the extraordinary team at Westchester Medical Center. We are also grateful to the Floral Park Police Department and the Hawthorne Fire Department for their generous assistance.

    Our families are deeply thankful for the outpouring of support from our communities, with particular gratitude to the Our Lady of Victory parish, Bishop Murphy of Rockville Center and the Floral Park School District. We ask everyone, especially the media, to respect our privacy as we grieve for our beloved sister, aunt, mother, daughters, cousins and friends. There will be no more statements at this time.


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