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Family 'shocked' that wrong way mom was drunk

November 15, 2009 7:42:40 PM PST
A relative of the Hance family, speaking for the parents of the three Hance children killed in the Taconic crash, said they were "shocked and deeply saddened" by the toxicology reports. "We would never knowingly allow our daughters to travel with someone who might jeopardize their safety," the statement read.

The statement was read by the children's uncle, Stephen Spagnuolo. He is the brother of the kids' mother. He did not take questions. Spagnuolo claimed to speak for the Hance parents and not the Schuler family. This is the first public indication that the families, which grieved together at the funeral last week, may have split over the report's conclusions.

Below is the transcript of the statement:

"We were shocked and deeply saddened by the information that has recently been released regarding the toxicology report. Amidst all of the uncertainty and speculation as to how and why this accident occurred, this is the absolute last thing that we ever would have expected. We would never knowingly allow our daughters to travel with someone who might jeopardize their safety. Because we have never known Diane to be anything but a responsible and caring mother and aunt, this toxicology report raises more questions than it provides answers for our family. While this new development only adds to our already profound and indescribable grief, we will continue to cooperate with law enforcement, as we have from the beginning."

The families also issued a statement that appeared on page one of Wednesday's editions of the Floral Park Gateway, the village's weekly newspaper. It was reportedly sent to the paper on July 29, the day of the funeral.

That statement reads, in part, as follows:

"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."

Schuler drove head-on into an SUV on the Taconic State Parkway, killing herself and four of the five children in her van, as well as the three occupants of the SUV.

Toxicology reports show Schuler had a blood alcohol level of .19 and had high levels of THC, which is the main substance found in marijuana. Officials also say she had 15 ounces of alcohol in her stomach that had yet to be digested and had smoked marijuana no more than an hour before the crash. A broken liter of vodka was also found in the car.

Schuler was returning to her West Babylon home from an upstate campground on July 26 when she got on the Taconic in the wrong direction. She drove for 1.7 miles before the crash.

Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter Erin and her three nieces, 8-year-old Emma Hance, 7-year-old Alyson Hance and 5-year-old Katie Hance died in the minivan. Guy Bastardi, his father Michael and family friend Daniel Longo, all of Yonkers, died in the SUV. Two others in another car that was hit and Schuler's 5-year-old son Bryan survived.

Meanwhile, family members of two of the victims killed in the tragedy are seeking legal action.

The family members of Bastardi and Longo met with prosecutors at the Westchester County district attorney's office Wednesday, and spokesman Lucian Chalfen says the meeting could help investigators "understand what transpired" in the crash.

Police said no criminal charges are planned, and legal experts say it would be very difficult to link anyone still alive with criminality in the incident. However, Daniel Schuler, Diane's husband, has retained Long Island criminal defense attorney Dominic Barbara to represent him.

Barbara has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference Thursday at his offices in Garden City. Schuler, Barbara says, will attend.

Mike Bastardi, Jr, who lost his father and brother in the crash, spoke with Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett, and said he is angered by the toxicology reports.

He said he had his suspicions that Diane Schuler was impaired, in some way, and said that anyone who knew she was impaired should be investigated and prosecuted.

  • CLICK HERE to read the transcript of NJ's interview with Michael Bastardi, Jr.

    The Bastardi family says "it feels like their father died all over again" after learning that 36-year-old Diane Schuler was under the influence while behind the wheel.

    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, stopping at a McDonald's on the way, police said.

    Her brother, the 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. Schuler's 8-year-old niece also spoke briefly with her father from the highway. The woman's cell phone was later found abandoned at a rest stop.

    Witnesses said they saw Schuler's minivan straddling two lanes and tailgating, with its 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.


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