The Taconic Parkway Crash

A devastating multi-car crash from 2009 gets some clarity with a fresh look at psychological profiling and behavioral analysis.

This post examines the 2009 New York Taconic Parkway crash that killed 8 people, including Diane Schuler, the driver of a minivan that plowed for 2 miles in the wrong direction down the parkway. 4 of the people were children and 3 others were injured. Those close to Diane claim she was the perfect image of a doting mother and aunt, a hardworking executive bringing in a 6-figure salary, and practically a teetotaler. So, why, then, was her blood alcohol content at autopsy 0.19? And, why did she have THC in her system? What happened?

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Deceased

  1. Emma Hance, 8, Diane’s niece: Deceased
  2. Alyson Hance, 7, Diane’s niece: Deceased
  3. Kate Hance, 5, Diane’s niece: Deceased
  4. Erin Schuler, 2, Dianes’ daughter: Deceased
  5. Guy Bastardi, 49, driver of Chevy Trailblazer: Deceased
  6. Michael Bastardi, 81, passenger in Chevy Trailblazer: Deceased
  7. Daniel Longo, 74, passenger in Chevy Trailblazer: Deceased
  8. Diane Schuler, 36, driver of minivan: Deceased

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Timeline

Hunter Lake Campground, Parksville, NY

5-6am: Danny Schüler, Diane’s husband, wakes on the final morning of their weekend camping trip and cleans his boat

7am: Diane wakes and begins getting her two children (Brian, 5 and Erin, 2) as well as her three nieces (Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5) clothed and ready to get on the road, headed home.

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Alyson, Emma, and Kate Hance

9:30am: Danny leaves the campground in a pickup truck with the family’s luggage and dog; Diane leaves right behind him in the Hance family’s red minivan with all 5 children. The campground keepers see the family leave and report nothing suspicious.

 

Liberty, NY

9:56am: CCTC footage captures Diane at a McDonald’s. The children are seen playing and eating. Witnesses report the Diane’s behavior appeared normal.

10:33am: Diane purchases an orange juice, which she takes in the car with her. The family leaves the McDonald’s.

10:46am: Diane stops for gas. CCTV footage captures Diane at the station; she reportedly asks a clerk for gel-cap pain relievers such as Tylenol gel-caps. The store does not carry this product.

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10:58am: Diane leaves the gas station. The store clerk reports Diane appears normal but footage of the minivan leaving the gas station indicate some possible hastiness or aggression.

Middleton area, NY

11:37am: Emma calls her father, Warren Hance, on Diane’s phone, to report they are running late. Warren speaks briefly with Diane, reporting nothing unusual about the call.

11:30am-12pm: Eyewitnesses report seeing a red minivan driving erratically and aggressively on Rte. 17 in Orange County

11:45am: An eyewitness reports seeing a woman fitting Diane’s description, hunched over as if vomiting, on Rte. 17 outside Middleton. Later, the woman passes the witness’ vehicle, driving a red minivan, and darts in and out of traffic aggressively.

12:08pm: Jackie Hance, Warren’s wife, calls Diane and speaks with her for less than 2 minutes, recalling the conversation as “normal”

12:13pm:  The minivan passes through the Harriman Toll Plaza

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Brian Schuler

Southbound Thruway, NY

12:15-12:45pm: Eyewitnesses report a red minivan, driven by a woman matching Diane’s description, weaving aggressively in and out of traffic. They report she is seen straddling lanes, honking her horn, and aggressively tailgating other cars.

Sloatsburg area, NY

12:15-12:45pm: Eyewitnesses report a red minivan pulled over on the side of the road, just north of the Thruway service area in Sloatsburg, NY. A woman matching Diane’s description is seen sitting on the guard rail and appeared unwell. One witness reports that the minivan began tailgating him and attempted, unsuccessfully, to pass him on the shoulder, before honking the horn repeatedly for 1 mile. This witness pulled in to the Sloatsburg rest stop and headed toward the McDonald’s. The van followed him but headed toward the truck parking areas, before driving over a grassy area and into the car parking area. The witness reported that the female driver of the minivan appeared ill.

Tappan Zee Bridge area, NY

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Erin Schuler

12:55pm: A wrong phone number is dialed from Diane’s phone

12:58pm: Emma calls her father again, this time, in a panic. She reports that Aunt Diane is incoherent, having difficulty seeing, confused, and that they are lost. Emma states “there’s something wrong with Aunt Diane” and her mother, Jackie, hears the children crying in the background. The call drops.

1:01pm: Warren Hance calls his sister, Diane, back and they speak for approximately 8 minutes. At this same time, the minivan passes through the Tappan Zee toll plaza. Warren describes Diane as “disoriented.” She slurs her words and calls him “Danny.” Emma gets on the phone and Diane pulls the minivan over. Emma reports seeing a sign that reads “Sleepy Hollow” and “Tarrytown.” Diane takes the phone again and Warren tells her to wait there.

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Brave and resourceful    Emma Hance, 8

1:10pm: Four wrong numbers are dialed from Diane’s phone. Diane leaves her phone “neatly” on the concrete barrier where she pulled over, just past the toll plaza, and drives off.

1:15pm: Warren calls Diane again, gets her voice mail. Nearly a dozen other calls to her phone go to voice mail over the next 20 minutes.

Mount Pleasant, NY

Sometime after 1:30pm: Diane turns right from Pleasantville Road onto an exit ramp (headed in the wrong direction) for the Taconic Parkway. She drives southbound against traffic for nearly two miles, causing more than a dozen vehicles to swerve out of her way. Multiple witnesses call 911. Some report honking their horns at Diane, attempting to get her attention. They state she was staring straight ahead and driving with intent, the car accelerating to at least 85mph.

1:35pm: The minivan crashes head-on into an SUV carrying the 3 Yonkers men (Guy and Michael Bastardi and their friend, Daniel Longo) to a family party. The 3 men, Diane, and all of the children except Brian died on scene. Brian was severely injured as were two other people in a third car involved in the crash.

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Behavioral Analysis

  • There are several things that make the tragic story of the 2009 Taconic Parkway crash so intriguing to the public: at autopsy, Diane’s blood alcohol level was determined to be a whopping 0.19 — the equivalent of 10 drinks. Not only this, but she had high levels of THC in her system. Six grams of alcohol in her stomach had not even been digested yet. The levels of THC in her system indicated she could have smoked marijuana as recently as 15 minutes before the crash. How could a mother and, purportedly, doting aunt, be so reckless? Diane’s husband, Danny, and sister-in-law, scoffed at accusations that Diane drove drunk and high with five kids in the back seat. She was practically a teetotaler, they claimed. She was the perfect image of a soccer or PTA mom and would never have put her children or nieces in harm’s way. Something out of the ordinary must have happened, they claimed. Perhaps a medical emergency, and that is why she stopped for Tylenol. Perhaps a long-aching tooth finally caused her such intense pain that it induced a stroke which would account for her disoriented state — but what about her blood alcohol and THC levels? Danny was unswayed. He went on multiple new outfits to defend Diane’s memory and even hired a private investigator to take a second look at Diane’s autopsy findings. The investigator, reportedly, came to the same conclusion. So, what happened? How did this perfect mom suddenly go off the rails? And why?
  • To understand what happened on the Taconic Parkway that Sunday afternoon, we have to rewind — way back to when Diane was 9-years old and her mother abandoned the family. Diane never recovered from this trauma, refusing to seek professional help for the ways this affected her, and refusing to discuss the issue at all, even with close friends. Over the years, Diane’s mother attempted multiple times to reconcile with her only daughter. While she was eventually able to reconcile with her other children, Diane never let her guard down and her mother back in. Whether or not Diane should have pursued a reconciliation with her mother is not the issue. It’s the fact that her mother’s abandonment, and perceived rejection, plagued Diane so much and she never addressed it that is at issue.
  • To hear even Diane’s close friends tell it, she kept her feelings close to the vest: “I’ve never seen her mad or angry,” and “she infrequently talked about personal feelings.” It appears anything dark, anything outside the image of the jovial homemaker, was kept under tight wraps. Her close friends report she never discussed her parents’ divorce or when her mother left the family behind — these topics were so forbidden that some of Diane’s friend wrongly assumed her mother was deceased.
  • Danny and Diane were ships in the night. While she pulled in a 6-figure salary as a top executive in her day job, Danny worked nights and arrived home after midnight, after Diane was already in bed asleep. She could have easily drunk the evening away, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, and passed out without him even knowing. They spent the weekends together doing family activities but, how close Danny and Diane actually were remains questionable. In one interview, Danny dismisses the notion that he didn’t really know his wife beyond a superficial level: “She’d talk to me if things came up,” he said. Things like “The house needs painting, the gutters need to be cleaned.” Friends and acquaintances said Diane never complained. Perhaps she should have. They also report she showed a deep interest in their lives, often buying gifts to match their hobbies. Was this, at least in part, a diversionary tactic Diane employed? Show enough interest in other people and maybe they pry about who I am?
  • Diane exhibited all the signs of a drunk and high driver: aggressiveness, erratic driving, tailgating, honking her horn, straddling the lines, and she was seen hunched over as if throwing up by two separate witnesses on two separate occasions. At the accident scene, an empty bottle of Absolut Vodka was found in the debris of the driver’s side of the minivan. Clearly, Diane had been drinking heavily. She had the equivalent of 10 shots of vodka in her blood stream and the equivalent of 1 shot of vodka still undigested in her stomach. Additionally, she was seen possibly vomiting by the side of the road on two separate occasions so she likely consumed more than 11 shots of vodka that morning. She may have purchased the orange juice at McDonald’s as a mixer or chaser.

Theory

  • The trauma Diane experienced from her parents’ divorce and her mother’s abandonment left her seeking “the perfect family,” to help her feel complete and healed. To keep the image alive with Danny meant not rocking the boat in their marriage, not bringing up grievances, and putting a perfect face out to the world. Their divergent schedules likely allowed Diane to move in and out of the marriage, relationally, on a superficial level. And, allowed Danny the same.
  • When Diane had two children and had to continue maintaining the perfect facade, I imagine she began to crack under the stress. Anyone who is a parent to young children knows how draining it is even when you are not attempting at every angle to appear perfect. I also imagine Diane was becoming increasing disillusioned by how her fantasies of constructing “the perfect family” were not materializing in reality.
  • Danny describes bouts of impulsivity, especially around shopping, which may indicate some impulse control issues for Diane. There was the time she left to buy groceries and returned home with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Or, the day she went to buy milk and came home with a flat-screen TV. What else might she have been doing on these errand runs, when she was alone and finally free? Did she drink or light up a joint? Was shopping one of the ways Diane self-soothed and kept her demons at bay? Was piling boxes of gifts in the attic a way of maintaining the fantasy of the perfect family? As Danny describes it, Diane would begin her Christmas shopping in July and the attic was neatly packed with clothes and toys for the children for years to come.
  • I question whether Diane could have been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (note: this is different than Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). OCPD is a mental health disorder in which the person is obsessed with perfection, overly-rigid, stubborn, focused on order and exactness, and frugality. Danny describes Diane’s remarkable ability to add up the cost of groceries in her head while at the market, down to the penny. He relays a time when, while purchasing a car, Diane caught the salesman in a $100 error. While Diane may have been aware of where every penny in their household was going, she was also, at times, impulsive, and bought things on the spur-of-the-moment, when it made her feel good. OCPD is marked by its high level of anxiety. Persons who are highly-anxious, and have experienced profound loss, are at higher risk for hoarding behaviors, which are often comorbid with OCPD. There are other little clues to a possible diagnosis of OCPD — Diane kept frequent to-do lists, was meticulous, highly-organized, and steady. On the other hand, Diane could be uprubt, overly-rigid, demanding, and stubborn. These are all hallmarks of OCPD. The fact that Danny was so passive may have allowed Diane’s OCPD to run the house, relatively unfettered. Persons with personality disorders often occupy managerial positions so it is no surprise to me that Diane was a top executive in a fast-paced environment AND was the manager of her household.
  • Ultimately, I believe something happened between 7-9:30am the day of the crash. Perhaps there was tension between Danny and Diane. Maybe they fought or he said something that greatly upset her. Maybe she found something out that was disturbing. Perhaps the kids were driving her nuts. Perhaps she was quietly seething that Danny took the car, the luggage, and the dog and she was left with a minivan full of five hungry kids. Danny thought the bottle of Absolut Vodka was packed in the back of his car. At what point did Diane stealthily transfer it to the driver’s side of the minivan?
  • I believe Diane started drinking at the McDonald’s around 10am, using the orange juice as a mixer or chaser. I am curious about the specific detail of her requesting Tylenol gel tabs at the gas station. Perhaps she had a horrible headache — who wouldn’t with 5 kids under the age of 10 in the back seat? But, why gel tabs? Was she planning on ingesting the cannabis orally for a faster high? Was there something else she wanted to put in the gel tabs? I just find this to be such a curious detail. If I had a roaring headache and was at a gas station, I wouldn’t care if all they had was aspirin or ibuprofen or acetaminophen pills. After all, Diane was due to be home in less than 2 hours and could have gotten her preferred medication then. Just strange.
  • People with personality disorders (PDs) are at increased risk of committing suicide and homicide. Across the board, whether it is OCPD or Narcissism, persons with PDs struggle with true empathy. This increases the likelihood that Diane, if she did have OCPD (and, perhaps, other comorbid PDs), would not have been able to prioritize the children’s needs over her own needs, especially in a moment of high stress. For someone with OCPD, if everything felt like it was unraveling and she couldn’t keep tight enough reins on it, they might just become suicidal. And, with Diane’s history of self-medicating, secrecy, and impulsivity, the level of risk goes up exponentially. Persons with PDs are famous for not voluntarily seeking out mental health treatment. After all, there’s “nothing wrong” with them. Diane was so averse to help and feedback that she wouldn’t even see traditional doctors unless the issue was urgent and she couldn’t fix it herself with alternative measures.
  • I don’t believe the Taconic Parkway crash was an accident. I believe Diane intended to kill herself and either didn’t care if she took others out with her or, worse, planned to take others out with her. Diane drove around aimlessly, drinking and smoking, likely working up the courage to follow through with her suicide mission. She left little bread crumbs indicating not a disoriented, chaotic scene where she drank a little too much alcohol and things went sideways. No, this was a calculated mission in which Diane carefully placed her cell phone on a jersey barrier, leaving it behind so her movements could not be tracked or pinged, and so she couldn’t be swayed by the phone ringing and others trying to intervene. At the moment she left the phone behind, she was literally standing right across from the police barracks. There were multiple opportunities in which she could have called it off, asked for help, given up. But, no, she egged people on — honking, tailgating — practically begging someone to kill her. She took her deep-seated rage out on dozens of innocent motorists and five innocent children. Diane did not suffer a medical episode. She suffered from an undiagnosed and untreated personality disorder and she committed suicide, intentionally, and with the knowledge that she would be murdering others in the process.

External Links:

http://jezebel.com/5405949/diane-schulers-story-is-one-of-isolation-denial-and-rage

http://nymag.com/news/features/62043/

http://thegenerationwhypodcast.com/diane-schuler-213-generation-why

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