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 mini-van with five children, all under the age of 9, 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 crash that followed killed everyone in her vehicle except for her young five year old son, Bryan. Tragically, three unsuspecting men riding in an SUV lost their lives as well. In a split second eight people were dead in a pile of twisted and burning wreckage that was hardly recognizable as automobile parts.
Flash forward to the autopsy 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 6 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 on pot at the time of the accident.
Oh, and police report they found a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka in Diane’s minivan after the deadly accident.
After this 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 2 year old daughter.
Denial in the face of reality. And a mourning man is left to nurse his critically wounded 5 year old 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 now entered the picture to claim, “There’s a strong fragrance of criminality” to what happened and 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 and he says it is “inconceivable” that the Schulers were unaware Diane had a drinking and drug problem.
“Any person who was aware 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 of revenge, the need to make someone pay you back for the awful thing that’s happened. But ultimately it is empty satisfaction.
We’ve become a society of blame seekers. Someone must take the blame for all the bad things that occur to us in life. One person’s bad judgment cannot be merely accepted, an accident can’t simply be just an accident. For some reason we need to point the finger of responsibility elsewhere and demand money to make our hurt or our loss go away. Of course, money doesn’t do either of those things. The dead are still dead, we still feel the tremendous loss deep in our souls.
But, there’s always a lawyer around willing to take the case for the promise of a payout equal to 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 duration of healing.
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.