On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler packed up the campsite at Hunter Lake in Parksville, New York where her family had spent the weekend. With her were her husband, Daniel, their 2 children and 3 of their nieces.
Diane and the children loaded up in a van belonging to her brother, Warren Hance, father to 3 of the girls in the van. Daniel and the family dog got into his truck and the group headed home to West Babylon. They left the camp site at approximately 9:30am.
On the way out, Diane said goodbye to a friend of the family who co-owned the campground. He had known the Schulers for a long time and later said that everything seemed normal when they left.
Half an hour down the road, everyone stopped for breakfast at McDonalds. Diane waited at the counter for their order and had a conversation with one of the employees. That person later reported that Diane seemed fine.
The group left the McDonalds at around 10:30 am. Approximately 15 minutes later, Diane pulled into a gas station and asked the clerk for pain medicine. The convenience store didn’t have what she asked for and Diane left. She was in the store less than a minute, but the cashier later said that seemed fine.
Just after 11:30 am Diane called her brother to tell him that she was running late because there was heavy traffic. The other motorists on the highway told a different story.
They remember Diane’s van because she was tailgating other cars, honking her horn and driving aggressively. 15 minutes after Diane called her brother, the van was seen pulled over on the side of the road. Passersby said that Diane was standing outside of the vehicle, bent at the waist with her hands on her knees. It appeared as though she was vomiting.
Just after noon, Diane received a call from her sister-in-law, Jackie, mother of 3 of the girls in the van. Jackie said that the conversation was normal and Diane sounded fine.
Within 30 minutes of this phone call, the van was seen at a rest stop. Again, passersby reported that Diane looked as though she was throwing up.
Just before 1 pm, 8 year old Emma, the oldest of the children in the car, called her parents. She told them, “There is something wrong with Aunt Diane.” Emma said that Diane was having trouble seeing the road and she was talking strangely. Diane got on the phone and said that she felt strange and couldn’t see.
Warren told her to stay where she was and he would come find them. He asked Emma to tell him what signs she could see. Her description pointed him in the direction of the Tappan Zee Bridge Toll Road. The phone call lasted less than 4 minutes and then they were disconnected.
Warren called back, but no one answered. He left to find his girls.
After the call, Diane got back on the road. There were 3 calls made from her phone, but they seem to be misdialed.
At approximately 1:30 pm people start calling 911 to report a van going the wrong way on an exit ramp of the Taconic State Parkway.
The calls continued as the van sped at over 80 mph going south in the northbound passing lane.
After traveling for almost 2 miles in the wrong direction, the van collided, without slowing down, into an SUV. The SUV struck another vehicle. The van rolled down an embankment and burst into flames.
Witnesses pushed the van upright and pulled Diane and the children from the van. It appeared that none of the children were restrained at the time of the collision.
Diane, her daughter and 2 of her nieces were killed instantly. The third niece died later at the hospital. Diane and Daniel’s 5 year old son was the only passenger of the van to survive. He suffered head trauma and broken bones.
All 3 men in the SUV were killed. The occupants of the third vehicle had minor injuries.
A toxicology report revealed that Diane’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and there was undigested alcohol still in her stomach. She also tested positive for high levels of THC. The medical examiner concluded that she may have smoked marijuana within an hour of her death. Good Samaritans that helped to remove Diane and her family from the van claimed to have seen a broken vodka bottle inside.
Almost immediately, Daniel disputed the findings. He claimed that Diane rarely drank and did not do drugs, stating that she hadn’t had any alcohol on the camping trip because the children were present.
Later, he amended his statement to say that Diane occasionally smoked pot to help her sleep and that she did drink that weekend, but not the day of or the day before the crash. Another family member refuted that claim saying that she knew Diane to smoke marijuana regularly.
Based on reports that Diane had been to the dentist before her death and that she may have stopped for the pain relievers because of a sore tooth, Daniel began to claim that Diane must have experienced some sort of medical event while driving that caused the crash.
The medical examiner stated that the autopsy showed no sign of such a medical issue. The district attorney stated that the crash was ruled a homicide due to Diane’s reckless driving. The results of her toxicology test did not affect these findings, but since Diane has died in the crash, no charges would be filed by the county.
In 2009, the family of two of the men killed in the SUV sued Diane’s estate and Warren for wanton, willful and reckless conduct. It was required that Warren be included in the suit because he owned the van.
Jackie sued Daniel in 2011. She stated that her daughters suffered “terror, fear of impending death, extreme horror, fright and mental anguish.”
Later, Daniel sued the state of New York for failure to maintain safe roads. He also sued Warren because he was the owner of the van Diane had been driving.
Each of these lawsuits has been settled or dropped. All information has been sealed by the court.
HBO released a documentary in 2011 called “There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane.” The documentary leans toward the sore tooth theory. It claims that when Diane couldn’t find pain killers at the convenience store, she turned to alcohol and marijuana to dull the pain.
The documentary revealed the results of a private investigation into the crash paid for by Daniel and his lawyer. The results mirrored the findings of the medical examiner. Daniel still refuses to accept them.
In the wake of this tragedy, Warren and Jackie founded the Hance Family Foundation that develops self-esteem programs for girls.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at