Thursday, November 5, 2009

When Loved Ones Do The Unthinkable

There’s a drama playing out in West Babylon, New York that makes you want to go home and tell your family how much you love them. It also makes you wonder how much bad news about your loved one you could accept if he or she did something so horrible it caused seven innocents to lose their lives.

On Sunday, July 26th, at about 10 o’clock in the morning
, Diane Schuler got behind the wheel of her red mini-van with five children, all under the age of nine -- including her brother's three little girls -- to return home from an upstate New York camping trip. At some point during the drive, Schuler’s young niece, Emma, picked up a cell phone and called her father. “There’s something wrong with Aunt Diane!” she is reported to have cried.

Diane Schuler had inexplicably gotten on a suburban highway going the wrong way. The horrific head-on crash that followed -- after she drove the wrong way for almost two miles -- killed everyone in her vehicle except her five-year-old son, Bryan. Three unsuspecting men in the other vehicle, a Chevy TrailBlazer SUV, all died. In a split second, eight people were dead in a pile of twisted and burning wreckage barely recognizable as automobile parts.

Flash forward to the
toxicology report on this seemingly happily married mother of two. The coroner’s office concluded that Diane Schuler had a blood-alcohol level of .19 – more than twice the legal limit – plus six grams of unabsorbed alcohol in her stomach. In addition, her blood carried 113 nanograms per milliliter of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The medical examiner said the level indicated Diane had smoked weed as recently as 15 minutes before the fiery crash. Translated: Schuler was very drunk and very high at the time of the accident.

Oh, and police report they found a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka in the minivan after the deadly accident.

Police waited until after the dead were buried to release Diane Schuler's toxicology report. After the information came to light, the grieving husband, Daniel, went before the press to categorically deny his 36-year-old wife had an alcohol or drug problem. He revealed he works nights, and their two children were frequently left with a babysitter, but he insisted some sort of unidentified medical problem must have caused her to lose control of the car. “She was a perfect wife, upstanding mother, a hard worker, a reliable person, trustworthy,” he said through his tears, remembering both his wife and his dead two-year-old daughter.

Denial in the face of reality. And a mourning man is left to nurse his critically wounded young son back to health. Your heart goes out to Daniel Schuler, as delusional as he is in the face of overwhelming forensics.

But that’s not all this new widower must face. A flamboyant New York attorney named Irving Anolik has entered the picture to
claim “there’s a strong fragrance of criminality” to the crash deaths. He plans to file a civil suit against the Schulers. Anolik represents the family of Guy and Michael Bastardi, a father and son who died in the SUV. Anolik says it is “inconceivable” that the Schulers were unaware Diane had a drinking and drug problem.

“Any person who was a
ware that she was drinking is an accomplice … whoever sold her the marijuana committed a crime,” said Anolik. “She didn’t just wake up one morning with a drug problem and capable of drinking that much alcohol.”

Anolik has a point, but the whole idea of blaming the family and making them pay for their dead loved one’s actions doesn’t sit well with me. I completely understand the urge for revenge, the need to make someone pay you back for the awful thing that’s happened. But ultimately, it's empty satisfaction.

We’ve become a society of blame seekers. Someone must take the blame for all the bad things that happen to us in life. One person’s bad judgment can't be merely accepted. For some reason, we need to point the finger of responsibility at others and demand money to ease our hurt and our loss. Of course, money doesn’t do either. The dead are still dead, and we still feel the tremendous loss deep in our souls.

But there’s always a lawyer willing to take the case for the promise of 30% of the settlement amount. Almost all the plaintiffs I’ve spoken to at the end of long, grueling, wrongful-death lawsuits say the same thing. In retrospect, they realize the years-long legal process they endured only served to keep their grief fresh. It prolonged the pain and the time it took to heal. The family of the Bastardi father and son were in court recently asking a judge to name an executor of Diane's estate so they'll have something to sue.

Do I think the survivors of the dead in this case deserve something? Yes. They deserve some peace for the awful event that has shattered their lives.


FleaStiff said...

>Denial in the face of reality.
Seems quite common, irrespective of civil liability potential. Families often prefer to describe someone as missing rather than dead. Innocence of the accused is routinely asserted by family members and by the accused themselves. And defendants are often sorry for what happened but rarely sorry for what they did, only for what happened.

Leah said...

Anybody that can hold as much liquer and marijuana as she did, especially first thing in the morning, couldn't have hid her problem from everyone she knew. You don't just wake up one day and consume all that....she has been using for a long time to build up that much tolerance.

Anonymous said...

I would say that she didnt have much tolerance at all given how she reacted to the binge. Her husband worked nights, she was probably a closet drinker. And yes, he is in denial, because he is grieving.

Anonymous said...

I would say you don't know any alcoholics Leah. They CAN and DO hide their habits very well. In fact I bet you do know at least 5 alcoholics and have no idea. They arent all dysfunctional falling on the floor bums.

They come in all forms and all walks of life.

cheryl said...

Holy Moly, my Mom was a "closet alcoholic" for years. She was a genius at hiding her addiction for years. Once in a very great while she would have a few drinks in front of people.

Before I was 34 years old, I had only seen my Mom drunk one time.(when I was 14 yrs. old) That was at a neighborhood block party, and I was able to shrug it off. All of us shrugged it off because it seemed so unlike her.

My Mom did not drink during the day until all of her children left home to marry.

Before she died, my Mom told me her whole history of drinking. By that time we knew she had a problem. She had been drinking compulsively for 30 years, and we knew nothing about it until several years prior. By that time, she was under cancer treatment, and my Father had to sell my Mom's car to pay the bills.

Her oncologist told my Dad that she had a bad liver and a bad pancreas. He was stunned.

I believe that there are some addicts who can fool people.

TLTL said...

This is indeed sad for all the families involved and keeping up the fight to punish anybody you can is only going to prolong the sorrow of everyone involved. I have some experience with alcoholics, both closet and open drinkers and I am thinking this lady had prior abuse problems, probably cleaned herself up except for occasional binges and this was the result.

Anonymous said...

seems the family did know....

Late last week, The Associated Press reported that Schuler's relatives told police she used pot as a way of coping with stress.

Schuler's husband told police she "smoked marijuana once in a while to relieve the stress of work and the kids," a police report said.

Schuler's sister-in-law told police she "didn't believe in medicine and used marijuana to relax," usually smoking after her children went to bed, according to the report.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see a connection of occasionally smoking weed after the kids are in bed to chugging a quart of vodka AND smoking weed WHILE driving. And I think most rational people would fail to see that connection as well.

Anonymous said...

I am sure LE sees the connection and that is the important thing.

Anonymous said...

LE is saying there is no case in case you missed it. The only person who did anything illegal is dead. So there is no case.

California Girl said...

And there are people who keep saying we need to legalize weed in California......

Anonymous said...

Why not? I seriously doubt the weed had anything to do with the crash. Sure the combo makes you more wasted, but just plain old smoking a doob (if you are used to it) doesnt do much.

I think it was more the quart of vodka that put her in that condition. I USED to smoke weed, you build a tolerance. I cannot smoke it anymore because it makes me wasted.

If alcohol is legal weed certainly should be. This case is not a case to be pointing to about the legalization of weed.