There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane: The Diane Schuler Story

Posted on 24 July 2011

Who is Diane Schuler, and why am I compelled to write an article about her?  I’d never met Diane Schuler, but the terrible accident in which she was involved on the Taconic State Parkway still burns in my memory — and not just for the particulars of her case.   Although what happened to me on the Taconic occurred many years before the Diane Schuler case, she and I may have had something in common … something inexplicable, something eerie, and in her case, something deadly; something rooted in or near the Taconic State Parkway.

In July of 2009, Diane Schuler, who lived on Long Island, New York, took her family on a camping trip to upstate New York.  Accompanying her were five young children: her son, her daughter, and her three nieces.  En route home, on July 25, 2009, she took the Taconic Parkway, heading back to Long Island; it was a road she’d driven many times before.

For those unfamiliar with the Taconic State Parkway, it is one of the roads that lead out of New York, past the city proper and past Westchester, to points north.  Traffic moves briskly on the Taconic and it usually flows easily.  It is not a difficult road to navigate.  The northbound and southbound lanes are not easily confused, because a low railing separates the lanes.  Through this railing, one can easily view traffic flowing in the opposite direction.

For three years, I drove that parkway, alternating it now and again with what we New Yorkers call “The Hutch” (the Henry Hutchinson Parkway).  This was during the period in which I’d been engaged to someone that I had decided, in the end, not to marry.  For this article, we’ll refer to him as Jim (not his real name).  Jim was from a section of Queens that bordered Long Island.   So, Diane Schuler, and I were both very familiar with the road on which she and seven others were destined to die on July 25, 2009.

The facts are as follows: Diane Schuler drove the wrong way for a two-mile stretch on the Taconic.  Unable to avoid an oncoming SUV, Diane crashed into that vehicle, thus meeting her Maker and killing the other seven innocent people.  Why would Diane do such a thing, on a road so very familiar to her?  Was she driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs?  Or was it something else that made her turn the wheel in the wrong direction, straight into oncoming traffic?

These are the questions that will be examined on Monday, July 25, 2011 at 9pm via the HBO Documentary Summer Series; the title of the program is, “There is Something Wrong with Aunt Diane.”  Crafted by the Oscar-nominee Liz Garbus*, the film explores this strange case through eyewitness accounts that have never before aired in the media, and interviews with Diane’s friends, who knew her only as a wonderful mother.   I’m going to tune in to see what HBO has uncovered, because, you see, I myself might have been caught in Diane’s shoes.  But unlike Diane, I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Here is that tale.

One evening, Jim and I were returning from his grandmother’s second home in upstate New York (the same general area where Diane and her family had been vacationing).   We took the Taconic State Parkway south, heading back to his home in Queens (the same direction in which Diane had been traveling that fateful evening in 2009).  Jim and I were both responsible people.  We were not drunk or high when he got behind the wheel and I slipped into the passenger seat.  And although it was evening, roughly 10 PM, we’d traveled that road many times before, at much later — and much earlier — hours.  The weather was clear; it was early autumn.  No rain, no snow, no fog.  The road was clear and the traffic was flowing smoothly and quickly.

Before getting onto the Taconic, we’d stopped at a diner for a cup of coffee each.  We had caffeine in our systems, nothing else.  We got onto the parkway, expecting an uneventful ride home.

This happened to me more than thirty years ago, but to this day, I can’t explain it.  I know that I did not pass out; I know that I didn’t fall asleep.  But inside the car, something happened.  In the Star Trek universe, you might say that I “winked out.”  It wasn’t the disintegrating “transporter effect.”  It was simply that, one minute I was there, and the next, I wasn’t.  For a few seconds, or perhaps a full minute, I went somewhere else; my mind, my soul did. I was aware that my body was still in the car and yet, the other part of me was not.  When I came back to myself, I thought, “Thank God Jim was driving and not me!”

Feeling foolish, for I could not explain what had just happened, I said nothing to Jim.  But immediately, he demanded, “What the hell was that just now?”  And then he proceeded to tell me that he, too, had simply “winked out” for a moment.  Again, both of us were cold stone sober and both of us were not tired when this had occurred.

Could this be what happened to Diane Schuler?  Could she have “gone somewhere” for a split second or perhaps a bit longer — just long enough to disorient her and make her turn her vehicle into harm’s way?  If so, what had caused her to “wink out?”  Is there a mystery surrounding the Taconic?  And are there, perhaps, similar tales?

Tune in to HBO on Monday, July 25th at 9 PM and maybe, just maybe, we’ll find out.


* Ms. Garbus has been nominated for an Oscar for her film, “The Farm: Angola USA.”  She has also crafted the HBO film, “Bobby Fischer Against the World.”


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32 Responses to “There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane: The Diane Schuler Story”

  1. John F. says:

    I watched this on Monday night only because I found this interesting article here. There is something no right with this story. Personally, I think that the Medical Examiner’s office screwed up. It happens all the time. Why else would the husband NOT get permission to exhume his own wife’s body in order to have another autopsy performed? And why would the husband then sue the State of NY for the right to exhume her? There was a cover up somewhere. Obviously, the accident happened & too many people died, little kids, too. But the family is seeking a clinical reason behind the crash & the State of NY is blocking a second autopsy. You have to wonder why.

  2. Barb Henderson says:

    I have watched this about 3 times. I think Diane Schuler planned this in great detail. Even leaving the cell phone at the side of the road. Putting the vodka bottle in the car, and not the camper. Having ALL the kids in the car with her. She wanted to die. She wanted to be relieved of all the stress in her life. She could not tell anyone so she planned it all to happen the way it did that awful day.

  3. Perry L. says:

    I watched the movie, and it is a very interesting and moving story. I am torn after watching this movie, I’m not really sure what to believe, her family feels so strongly that there was no possible way that she could have been drunk. I like your article,have you ever done any research into other similar stories that involved people “blacking out” whole driving on the taconic parkway?

  4. Margie says:

    I watch this story and I sould be wrong but the first thing that came to my mind was a show that I had seen (I can’t remember the name of it) but the authorities were going to take a child away from her parents because it look as though the mother was poisioning the child, I believe it look as though the child had high levels of ethanol in the blood, it turned out that the child had a very rare disease and the ethanol was being produce through her body, I can’t remember the symtoms but I thought this might be something to consider when trying to come up with an answer to what happened to Mrs Schuler who did not appear in the video at the store to be intoxicated and had a history of being responsible. God bless the family.

  5. Kathleen Felleca says:

    Perry, no I’ve not done other articles about people experiencing odd things on the Taconic. I’d actually forgotten what had happened to me, as it was so long ago, until I was asked to cover this story — and then it all came flooding eerily back.

    Margie … very interesting. Thank you. I’d not heard about that rare condition. I’d like to research it.

  6. Editor says:

    Perry, in answer to your question, we have not done any research, but that is a very good idea for a follow-up article. When the publicist for the HBO Summer Documentary Series contacted us to do this article, it happened that our author, Kathleen Felleca, had had this incident that she recounts in the article and was happy to make it public. We’ll see if we can dig up any information on other similar experiences and, if we do, we’ll publish our findings. Thanks for the suggestion!

  7. kmj says:

    I have not slept a good night’s sleep since I watched this documentary. She seems to be such a good person but the lab results are what they are. Something is very wrong in this scenario and no one will ever know what it is. Such a pity for those left to mourn, not having any answers. If I were a family member I would be demanding another independent autopsy, all new samples etc.

  8. Nancy says:

    Im watching this movie for the 2nd time as I write this and to me,I think she wanted to die. She was stupid for doing it with the kids because she killed her own daughter and three nieces. I could be wrong. Maybe something medicaly went wrong,no one knows expect for her so its and unsolved mystery.

  9. Linda Matuskey says:

    I have become sort of obsessed with this movie and this sad, sad story. One thing that is bothering me is that the autopsy (which is available on the internet) reports that her blood glucose was 4. Normal is 80-110. It is possible that blood glucose gets lower after death (glycolosis can still occur), but did they do a test on the vitreous humor (in the eye) where glycolosis does not occur? Her symptoms seem very similar to severe hypoglycemia (headache, poor vision, anxiety). I wish they had done a second autopsy.

  10. TBM says:

    I watched this documentary for the first time on yesterday and afterwards I felt so sad &extremely mad and confused. Sad for the lost of the children and the men who perished due to no fault of there own, and HOT HOT mad at the husband; who I feel knew that Diane was under the influence and still allowed her drive due to the fact that she was the bread winner & brain trust in family, and he didn’t have the balls to use his common sence in not allowing this woman to drive in the condition is was in, and most of all with his children and nieces. If he had spoken up, none of this would have happend. Confused, because of how the documetary was written; it was very one sided in trying to portray Diane as this wonderful, grounded person vs, being open and honest and providing anwsers to the tough questions as for why someone who appeared to have it all together would do something like this. Had they done so, think about how many people they could have touched? and lives that could be saved?


  11. Mdw3575 says:

    I have watched this repeatedly & have become somewhat obsessed with this story. I just can’t believe she was purposefully drunk. I wish they would conduct the 2nd autopsy. I pulled up the autopsy on line & like others, even though she had high levels of alcohol in her system, there was no damage to organs such as the liver or kidneys to show long term use. Unfortunately, we may never know what really happened. Maybe when little Bryan gets older, he may be able to give us those answers. He is the only one that knows. What disturbs me as much as this tragedy is all of these lawsuits. My God, everybody is suing somebody. What is that going to help? It doesn’t bring them back! Is there a profit to be gained by the highest bidder? It’s so awful & what’s lost in all this is that 8 people are gone regardless to who’s at fault. I hope that these families can find some sort of peace.

  12. Debbie says:

    I have watched the documentary several times and there was marijuana and alcohol in her system. Once her brother, not her husband mind you, knew she was pulled over at the Tappan Zee, the phone is left on the median and she took the OPPOSITE direction of where she should have gone. I do not believe in any Twilight Zone moment. The blackout moment should have come when she entered the off ramp for the Parkway with the kids probablt screaming at her that she was going the wrong way. She was drunk and high. Why she would do that with the kids in the car I do not know. Murder/suicide? She was beyond drunk–she was numb.

  13. Russ says:

    I might be one of only a few people who think that maybe something medically did happen to Diane. The question I am asking to help me resolve this issue is there any kind of medical situation that could cause someone to freak out like she did? Does anyone know of something medical that can cause some of this? It seemed that maybe some kind of pain was developing and she stopped for “gel caps” at the Sunoco and then the pain kept increasing and perhaps it got so bad she started freaking out and was trying to stop it with the alcohol and pot?? Then she completely lost her grip on reality and along with the alcohol she did what she did? If there has never been anything medical like this happening before then I will probably change my mind but until then…I Keep wondering.

  14. Frieda says:

    After watching the documentary about Diane’s behavior noted by witnesses statements, I wonder if Diane could of had a complex partial seizure, during these seizures people usually do not lose consciousness but go into a spacy like state. And are often disoriented and confused. This would account how wittiness said she was driving unaffected by car horns and yelling. Also that she continued to drive in a straight line, I wonder if she ever had a history of seizures which can easily be triggered by stress, substance abuse, or diabetic conditions. I cannot understand how she could wake up even after a night of drinking, and still have the high of a alcohol count. Yes, she was fairly obese but who could drink 10 glasses of vodka within such a short period of time. Also how could Diane come off so sober as witnesses stated? I too believe something was wrong with Diane’s cognitive ability, which may have caused this horrible accident, also I did not feel it was fair to openly show Diane’s dead body, while making sure the other victims where covered. My heart goes out to Diane’s family, and I wish them well.

  15. Jenny says:

    Were any tests done for ambien in her system? I believe medical records showed she was prescribed this medication. There have been several widespread articles on the problems with total memory loss and bizarre behavior when people have taken this drug. This would explain her unusual consumption of the drugs in her system. She really may have taken both alcohol and marijuana under the influence of a drug that has shown to give some people complete memory loss.

  16. phillyds says:

    I watched the documentary several weeks ago and tried to put it out of my mind but I find myself today on the internet researching the story. Everyone has very good points but there are other points that I questioned while watching. Several witness accounts stated that she seemed drunk because of the way she was driving. However, they described something totally different than a drunk driver. Several witnesses stated that she had a blank stare but she seemed to drive with a purpose. She did move across lanes but she was on point and did not lose control of the wheel. One witness also stated that she was precise but fast on the ramp and another said he was going straight forward the wrong way without moving for on coming traffic. Drunk drivers are the total opposite. They swerve and cannot keep control of the wheel. They drive haphazardly. She seemed normal in the store and fast food employees also said she seemed normal. How could she become so out of control that quickly. Also, police said there was a bottle of vodka in the car, not an empty bottle.

  17. Angela says:

    After watching this documentary I found myself contemplating it for hours. There were definitely several questions I was left asking myself after seeing it. I found it irrefutable that she was drunk and high, and based on comments made by friends and family it didn’t seem out of character for her to drink and smoke pot. What I can’t contemplate is her not just drinking and drugging and driving, but HOW MUCH she drank and smoked while getting behind the wheel of a car that carried the lives of 5 precious children. The husband struck me as someone who knew more than what he was saying. I also think that based on the fact that he worked nights she could have drank and smoked more heavily than he realized. However, even IF she did have a drug and alcohol problem I still couldn’t contemplate how she would drive inebriated like that with those kids in the car. I have wondered if there was something going on in the marriage or even a fight that she had with her husband prior to leaving that morning that triggered her to binge on drugs and alcohol, but perhaps didn’t realize how much it would mess her up until it was too late. And perhaps at that point she was too scared and ashamed to admit her state of mind to her family and ask for help.

    After reading that her husband recently filed a lawsuit against his brother-in-law (yes, the one who lost all 3 of his children in the wreck) on grounds that the van she was driving was his and it was “faulty” in some way definitely furthered my suspicions that the guy is a huge jerk. That along with his stating he never wanted to have kids and was now stuck raising his son was the icing on the cake. I think there were probably a ton of problems in that marriage and who knows what state of mind (depression, etc) she was in. There was no question based on her blood alcohol level that she was beyond drunk &; not to mention high. The real question that will never be answered is “why”. Such a sad story.

    Also, in reference to some comments above. I thought that the question of her blood glucose level was an interesting one. A level of “4” is definitely coma level for a diabetic. And drinking actually does lower your blood sugar level. However, I do think that the medical examiners would have definitely factored that in and would have stated that as a cause if that thought it was one. My guess is that it lowered after she was deceased. And as far as the question of the bottle of vodka being in the car, but whether or not it was empty. You could actually clearly see it in the wreckage of the car in the documentary. You could also clearly see it was an Absolut Vodka bottle,however; it was so badly damaged that there would have been no way to know how much was left in the bottle (if any) before the crash. I would also say that based on her blood alcohol level it didn’t really matter. It’s indisputable that she was wasted.

  18. ellen ross says:

    I really wonder if ambiene could be the culprit. I took it once several years ago and was completely delirious. I told my friends about it and heard two other stories. One friend took it and had complete blackouts of events that had transpired. My other friend told a story of her mom driving at a high rate of speed the morning after taking it, while her husband begged her to pull over, yet she has no recollection of it happening. Ambiene looks just like Motrin caplets. they are the exact same color and shape. Could it be she thought it was a motrin and accidentally took it while driving.

  19. Felicity says:

    I just don’t understand. I don’t understand all the theories. I saw the documentary over the weekend. Oh my, I cannot believe they showed her dead body!!! It’s so difficult I mean facts are facts. Marijuana and alcohol- Was the vodka confirmed? Or was it the equivalent to that amount? I say this, because after happy hour 2-3 glasses of red wine I feel fine, but then during the night is when I feel like it’s in my blood stream. This is such a tragic story. There will never get closure. Ever. My heart goes out to all victims involved.

  20. Sue says:

    very very sad. personally, i think she was drunk and high. think about it. your camping, have a camp fire going most of the evening thru morning hours. you fall asleep around 3 or 4 in the morning wake up in a drunken stuper still buzzed from a couple of hours ago, head pounding, kids raging, getting things packed to home. also, if she was smoking pot where was her stash, did she have it with her? a pipe, rolling papers, etc? I believe the husband knows something. i just wish the family would just let these deceased people rest in peace. there is no other findings. two set of blood samples were taken both came out the same with the booze/pot. so what does that tell you?

  21. Penny Jorgensen says:

    This woman HAD A STROKE OR BRAIN HEMORRHAGE!!!!!!!! There are many reasons that false positives show up on tox testing – why isn’t someone recognizing this? Advil can show a false positive for THC! Do not let this family give up.

  22. Christopher Whittington says:

    If the body had no mechanism for catabolizing the alcohols, they would build up in the body and become toxic. This could be an evolutionary rationale for alcohol catabolism also by sulfotransferase. this is a recent article I have found. I saw the documentary a while back and as soon as I read this article I thought of this. the question is…if Diane Schuler had this rare Disease, what is the level of tox. that would cause this issue.

  23. amylynn says:

    Yes, it is a vortex in the Taconic that fills your belly with vodka and your blood with THC. This happened to me 20 years ago too. I too became disoriented and drove onto the off ramp and drove for 10 miles the wrong way. Had that unicorn not startled me back into reality I would not be here today.

    Brilliant theories all. Some people search for the truth, other people search for ways to substantiate their per-conceived notions. Ridiculous.

  24. amylynn says:

    Oh, and the open bottle of vodka in the car, did the vortex and the rare disease but that in there too?

    Oh yeah, the police planted it, b/c of course they knew that she had that rare disease too. yeah, right. Sounds like the whole state of NY was in on this. If only they had these resources to fight crime!

  25. Wendy says:

    Something happened to her after the last toll bridge, fight with hubby or someone else, drove her to say, screw you all, this is payback.

  26. Linda Matuskey says:

    Everything written about this is all supposition. Even the smarmy remarks from amylynn, who sounds like she knows the truth. Pfffft.

  27. bbmcrae says:

    So you had an incident once happen on the Taconic, and a woman killed a bunch of people in a crash there? I believe this is called a “coincidence”. I’ve had those episodes from time to time. On other roads. If two people had heart attacks there, or colds, or a toothache, you could also say the road magically caused those, too.

    Rather than supposing the unbelievable claim of some kind of Bermuda Triangle along the Taconic, or a massive coverup to frame an innocent, saintly woman, could we also suppose she drank and smoked pot that day and crashed? And that her family has circled their wagons in deep denial that you can read on their faces when you watch this documentary?

  28. bbmcrae says:

    Also, this wasn’t a case of a person losing control of car and swerving into traffic. Diane Schuler drove very deliberately and dangerously for a long time, stopped her car, left her phone, honked her horn, and eventually crashed. It’s so wildly different from your story. It takes a huge leap over logic to say “Hey, the same thing happened to me!”

  29. Fel121 says:

    Thank the maker someone on this board is making sense, I have read comment after comment of, toothaches that cause strokes, of mishandled blood work, of strange alternate dimensional rips in the space time continuum, REALLY?!

    Why is it so hard to see the mountain that right in front of your face, why create this wonderful fiction for yourself, if you want fairy stories their are isles full of them at your local library or book store. This woman was blind drunk and such a narcissistic control freak and hostile driver that she was blowing down that road and any attempt to get her attention was ignored because; as always, “She was the boss, she was in charge and everyone else could go to hell”

    If there is anything more to this story it is in the mind of the husband and the brother in-law (Jays’ Husband), you notice how he did not take part in this, hunt for the truth. And that husband of hers, is there greater example of the sissyfication of the American male than this schmuck. At one point the woman Jay says they were going to get Diane because she was “sick”, this is a code word people, they knew who this woman was and they were trying to cover up her demons that were well known to them.

  30. Jan RN says:

    I watched the movie several times and am stymied as to why this happened.Several ideas come to mind.She had OCD and didn’t like doctors.She had a documented abscess in the jaw,having walked out of the dentist in April of 09 a few months prior.She was trying to find “gelcaps” at the Sunoco station and when not being able to possibly self-medicated with alcohol,thus drinking too much. I am surprised at the low blood glucose(4)- especially with alcohol still in her system. Another idea is she had a severe migraine headache.Nausea,vomiting,tunnel vision,blind spots. TIA and stroke happen with migraine.Again,she may have self-medicated with alcohol.TMJ causes SEVERE pain. All these are possibilities.Whatever reason,she drove the wrong way on the Taconic and killed herself,4 family members and 3 others in the other car.Her son Bryan survived.My heart goes out all the families involved.

  31. Luisa says:

    I am so mad at Diane Schuler. She had a responsibility to the crdhilen she was driving home and the other drivers on the road. For her to drink and drive and use what ever she did as far as drugs, this women is a murderer, just like any other drunk that drinks and drives and kills!!! She has destroyed how many peoples lives left behind and she isn’t even here to suffer for it.Those left behind now suffer for a selfish act of an irresponsible person.For her husband to stick up for her, good for him, but I dont care what health condition his lawyer tries to dig up, the fact she had unabsorbed alcohol in her stomach is enough to show that there is no other answer for all these deaths. She is guilty end of story . If I was driving and felt ill , I would pull over and call for help be it 911 or my family or both.I would not move the car at all!!!! What was going on in that women’s mind no one will know and why didn’t she listen to her brother and wait for him to get herand the kids. Now his 3 girls are gone because of her. I would never be able to forgive my sister if she killed my kids. NOT EVER!!! My deepest sympathy goes out to the families of all the victims left behind to make sense of a horrible decision made by one foolish individual.

  32. Hugo F. Melo says:

    This is great information. Thank you for publishing this.

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