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.”