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Police: Mother drinking vodka and smoking pot before deadly crash


GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) - A mother was drinking vodka and smoking
marijuana while driving a vanload of children home from a weekend
camping trip that ended in disaster when she went the wrong way on
a highway and crashed into an SUV, killing eight people, police
said Tuesday.
Diane Schuler, who died along with her 2-year-old daughter and
three nieces in her red minivan, had more than 10 drinks of alcohol
in her system and a high level of the main ingredient in marijuana,
authorities said.
The revelations from the 36-year-old Long Island woman's autopsy
helped explain how the woman her family called "an accomplished
working mother who always put her children before any other
priorities" wound up driving the wrong way for nearly two miles on
a suburban parkway before slamming into the SUV.
The July 26 crash on the Taconic State Parkway, about 35 miles
northwest of New York City, also killed three men in the SUV.
Schuler's 5-year-old son, in her minivan, survived.
Investigators said Schuler had been driving erratically on other
upstate roads before getting on the highway.
Schuler's blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit,
and she still had undigested alcohol in her stomach, State Police
Maj. William Carey said Tuesday.
Blood tests also showed she had smoked marijuana 15 minutes to
an hour before the crash, said Betsy Spratt, chief toxicologist for
the Westchester County medical examiner.
"With that level of alcohol ... she would have had difficulty
with perception, with her judgment, with her memory," Spratt said.
"You start to get what we call tunnel vision."
State police have been investigating why the businesswoman, who
was a regular visitor to an upstate campground, would have been
driving toward her home the wrong way on a highway she had driven
many times before.
Toxicology reports found Schuler's blood-alcohol level was 0.19,
more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08, Carey said. She
also had 6 grams of undigested alcohol in her stomach, Carey said.
A broken 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut vodka was found in the
wrecked minivan, Carey said.
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, which happened
after Schuler drove 1.7 miles south in the parkway's northbound
lane.
An attorney who served as a family spokesman at funerals last
week did not immediately return a telephone message left by The
Associated Press on Tuesday.
Floral Park village police blocked access to the home of
Schuler's brother and said no one was there to comment. There was
no answer when a reporter knocked on the door of the Schuler family
home in West Babylon.
Neither Schuler's husband nor extended family has spoken with
reporters about the crash. The families issued a statement last
week calling Schuler "a devoted mother to her children, Bryan and
Erin."
"She was a constant, doting presence in her nieces' lives, and
our extended family admired her competence, ease with children and
sense of humor," it said. "Never has there been a more
responsible and trusted friend or caregiver."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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