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Husband denies alcoholism in NY wrong-way crash

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Associated Press
August 7, 2009
— Despite the blood tests, broken vodka bottle and a minivan careering the wrong way down a highway to a fiery end, Daniel Schuler is positive his wife wasn't a drunk.

A possible stroke, a bump in her leg that kept moving, an old case of diabetes and an untreated abscessed tooth were more likely causes of Diane Schuler's disastrous drive with a vanload of small children that killed her and seven others, Schuler said.


"I go to bed every night knowing my heart is clear," Schuler said tearfully Thursday, in his first public comments since the July 26 crash that killed his wife, 2-year-old daughter and three young nieces. "She is not an alcoholic. Something medically had to happen."


The 36-year-old cable executive was praised as a responsible mother trusted with anyone's children who showed no signs of a substance abuse problem, defying an autopsy report that found she had downed more than 10 drinks and smoked marijuana up to an hour before the crash on a suburban New York City highway.


A broken, 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut vodka was recovered from Schuler's burned-up minivan on the Taconic State Parkway. Schuler's blood alcohol level was more than twice the state's legal limit, she had undigested alcohol in her stomach and high levels of the key ingredient in marijuana in her system, the Westchester County medical examiner's report said.


A preliminary autopsy ruled out a stroke, heart attack, or aneurysm, Westchester County officials said.


"I stand by those findings" county medical examiner Millard Hyland said Thursday.


But in an anguished, angry public appearance Thursday, Daniel Schuler and his attorney, Dominic Barbara, said other medical problems may have affected Schuler's thinking and caused her to drive erratically.


Barbara a divorce attorney who has represented Joey Buttafuoco, actress Lindsey Lohan's father and Victoria Gotti noted witnesses who saw Schuler on the highway reported she was driving erratically, moving in and out of lanes, honking her horn and flashing her headlights.


"This is not the actions of a person who is drunk," Barbara said. "And I think something happened to her brain."


He said he couldn't explain the alcohol or marijuana in her system. "I'm not saying that test is wrong yet, but something had to happen," he said.


Barbara said Diane Schuler was once diagnosed with gestational diabetes which usually goes away after childbirth had an undiagnosed lump on her leg and was suffering from an abscessed tooth for nearly two months. It was not clear how any of those maladies would prompt someone to become intoxicated.


Daniel Schuler said the autopsy report was "not true."


"She was never drunk since the day I met her. ... She was not a drinker," he said.


He also disputed reports that problems with their marriage drove her to drink, calling her "a perfect wife" and saying he "would marry her again tomorrow" if he could.


Schuler, of West Babylon on Long Island, piled 5-year-old son Bryan, 2-year-old daughter Erin and three nieces aged 5 to 8 in her minivan at about 9:30 on a Sunday morning at an upstate campground. People at the site said they saw her leave and she hadn't been intoxicated.


Nearly four hours later after state police said she had been seen driving erratically on state roads she drove onto a northbound exit ramp on the Taconic and began driving south in the fast line, continuing for 1.7 miles before she slammed head-on into an SUV. She was killed along with her daughter, nieces and the three men in the SUV.


Tom Ruskin, an investigator hired by Daniel Schuler, said Friday there were four phone calls to and from the minivan between the time Diane Schuler left the campground and when the vehicle crashed.


Ruskin said on NBC's "Today Show" that on one of the phone calls, Diane Schuler's niece was heard saying her aunt was having trouble seeing and speaking.


Family of the men in the SUV had questioned how Schuler's family could have been oblivious to an alcohol abuse problem and suggested criminal charges were possible. An attorney for the victims' family didn't return calls Thursday.


State police said this week that cooperation had been "limited" from family members after interviews with Daniel Schuler and Schuler's brother Warren, who spoke to his sister on the phone about a half hour before the crash.


On Thursday police said that Warren Hance and his wife whose three children died were interviewed again and were cooperating, while Schuler refused a "prearranged interview."


Barbara didn't say when Schuler would be available for an interview. He refused at a news conference to allow Schuler to answer any questions about marijuana use, citing his client's job as a security officer for Nassau County.


The family has not decided whether to seek another autopsy and is awaiting more information from the county's autopsy report, Barbara said.


Jay Schuler, Daniel Schuler's sister-in-law, who said she and Diane were "best friends," said she never hesitated to leave her own child in Schuler's care. Schuler had been a nanny before becoming an executive with Cablevision, she said.


"She loved children, her nieces were her girls," Jay Schuler said. "There is no way she would ever jeopardize her children."


The Schulers' 5-year-old son was the only one in the minivan to survive the crash. His father said the little boy is still hospitalized, but his condition is improving.


Daniel Schuler said the couple went through a normal routine on the Sunday before he last saw her at the campsite, waking up early so he could get ready for a fishing trip and she could take the children home.


"She was fine," he said. "We had a cup of coffee in the morning, we packed the cars up like we always do and we headed out."



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