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Killer or Victim: Who Was Wrong-Way Crash Mom?

(AP Photo/Schuler Family)
Diane Schuler and her niece Melanie Hance, in an undated family photo.

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBS/AP) Who exactly was Diane Schuler, the Long Island mother who killed eight people including her own daughter and three nieces in a horrible crash while driving the wrong way?

Was she recklessly drunk and high as prosecutors say a toxicology report has shown?

Or was she the mother who loved children, was never seen drunk and must have suffered from a sudden illness, as her husband Daniel Schuler claims?

Despite the blood tests, broken vodka bottle and a minivan careering the wrong way down a highway to a fiery end, Daniel Schuler remains 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, Daniel 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."

Is Daniel Schuler just naive? Did his wife have a secret life involving alcohol and drugs?

According to those who knew her best, the 36-year-old cable executive was a responsible mother trusted with anyone's children who showed no signs of a substance abuse problem.

Daniel Schuler and his sister-in-law Jay Schuler stood shoulder to shoulder during a Thursday afternoon press conference and openly defied the autopsy report that found Diane Schuler had downed more than 10 drinks and smoked marijuana up to an hour before the crash on a suburban New York City highway.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Daniel Schuler's eyes fill with tears during a press conference in Garden City, N.Y., Aug. 6, 2009.

"She was never drunk since the day I met her. ... She was not a drinker," Daniel Schuler said. He called the autopsy "not true."

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.

"She loved children. Those nieces were her girls," Daniel Schuler's sister-in-law Jay Schuler said at the same press conference. "There is no way she would ever jeopardize the children."

Jay Schuler said she and Diane were best friends and she never thought twice about leaving her own children under Diane's care.

Schuler family attorney Dominic Barabara 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.

And a preliminary autopsy ruled out some of Barbara's theories such as stroke, heart attack, or an aneurysm, Westchester County officials said.

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

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.

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.

The Schulers are still considering whether or not to exhume Diane Schuler's body for a second autopsy.


PREVIOUSLY ON CRIMESIDER
August 6, 2009 - Crash Mom's Husband: "I Would Marry Her Again Tomorrow"
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  • Neil Katz

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