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Husband: Mom in Taconic crash rarely drank

Sunday, November 15, 2009

She couldn't have been drunk and stoned. Her husband had never seen her intoxicated before. And there were absolutely no marital problems that could have sent her over the edge.

In an anguished, sometimes angry news conference, Daniel Schuler refused to accept an autopsy report that showed his wife had the equivalent of 10 drinks and smoked marijuana within an hour of the wrong-way highway crash that killed her and seven other people.

"I never saw her drunk since the day I met her," Daniel Schuler told reporters at a press conference outside his attorney's office. "She was not a drinker. She was not an alcoholic."

He suggested anything from a stroke to gestational diabetes to even an abscessed tooth could have caused his wife to act irrationally in the hours before her death.

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

Diane Schuler, 36, drove the wrong way for nearly two miles on the Taconic State Parkway and struck a sport utility vehicle. The July 26 crash killed her 2-year-old daughter, three young nieces and three men in the SUV.

A broken 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut vodka was found in her wrecked minivan, police said.

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.

A preliminary autopsy of Diane Schuler ruled out a stroke, heart attack, or aneurysm, Westchester County officials said. The medical examiner said Thursday that he stood by his report that found her blood-alcohol level was more than twice the state's legal limit, she still had undigested alcohol in her stomach, and she had high levels of the key ingredient in marijuana in her system.

Police said Thursday that Daniel Schuler wasn't cooperating with their investigation. Officers that came to Long Island "for a prearranged interview" were not allowed to question him.

Schuler's attorney, Dominic Barbara, didn't say when Schuler would be available for an interview. Police interviewed him once last week.

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.

Barbara - a divorce attorney who frequently appears on Howard Stern's radio show and who has represented Joey Buttafuoco, actress Lindsey Lohan's father Michael and Victoria Gotti - suggested some sort of stroke may have led Diane Schuler to act irrationally. He noted witnesses who saw Schuler on the highway reported that 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. Something happened," Barbara said. "And I think something happened to her brain."

He said he couldn't explain the alcohol or marijuana in her system.

A substance abuse expert said Thursday that close family are sometimes the last to know about a loved one's problem.

"Families are often in denial and can't deal with the reality that a family member has a problem," said Marc Galanter, director of the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at New York University.

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 survived. 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 a campsite in upstate New York.

"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."

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

The attorney declined to allow Daniel Schuler to answer any questions regarding the marijuana allegations, citing his client's job as a security officer for Nassau County.

Daniel Schuler, 37, began to break down emotionally as the press conference ended.

"I go to bed every night knowing my heart is clear," he said. "She did not drink. She is not an alcoholic. Something medically had to happen."


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