What Was Wrong With Aunt Diane…

| July 26, 2011 6:00 AM video
A group of men hug as caskets are loaded into hearses at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Flora Park, NY, Thursday, July 30, 2009.  The funeral mass was for Diane Schuler, Erin Schuler, Kate Hance, Alyson Hance and Emma Hance, all of whom died in a minivan going in the wrong direction on a parkway and crashed on Sunday, killing eight people total.  AP Photo/Seth Wenig
"There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane"
Directed by Liz Garbus. Premieres Monday, July 25. Available on HBO On Demand through Sept. 11.

Two years ago on Tuesday, Diane Schuler left a campground in upstate New York, where she was vacationing with her family, and set off for her home in Long Island. Four hours later she drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway, eventually crashing into an oncoming SUV and killing eight people including herself, her daughter and her three nieces.

In the moments leading up to the crash, Schuler’s niece, 9-year-old Emma Hance, used a cell phone to call her mother from the vehicle. “There’s something wrong with Aunt Diane,” she said. Those last few words are now the title of a new HBO documentary, directed by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner,  Liz Garbus.

Daniel Schuler, right, holds hands with sisters-in-law Jay Schuler, center, and Joyce Schuler, left, while surrounded by reporters during a press conference in Garden City, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009. Schuler's wife Diane was drunk and high on marijuana when she drove the wrong way for almost two miles on a highway before smashing head-on into an SUV, killing herself and seven others, a prosecutor said. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The crash was one of the worst motor vehicle collisions in New York State history. The story rippled through the press.

Passing drivers reported that Schuler had a serene and oblivious look on her face as she stared straight ahead, grasping the steering wheel at ten and two, according to reports. Nine days after the crash, police investigators released a report from Schuler’s autopsy: the 36-year-old mother had apparently guzzled nearly 10 shots of alcohol and smoked pot, possibly while behind the wheel.

The national media vilified her as a drunk mother who cracked, but using interviews with friends and family, Garbus’ film, “There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane,” captures a more nuanced portrait of a woman who seemed to have it all.

Garbus examines the events leading up to the crash and digs into Schuler’s past. Was she a reckless alcoholic who managed to keep her habit a secret? Or were the autopsy reports wrong, and was it some medical problem, like a stroke or a seizure, that caused Schuler to crash?  Garbus’ film includes extensive interviews with Schuler’s husband, Daniel, and her sister-in-law, Jay, who both argued the latter. Their belief that Schuler was the victim of a medical emergency was also documented in detail in Steve Fishman’s New York magazine article in November 2009, in which the two describe Schuler as a conscientious mother, who strove for perfection and would never knowingly endanger children. Daniel is also now suing the state for damages, claiming that the accident was a result of the Taconics poor design and inadequate signage, according to recent reports.

The film chronicles her family’s efforts to get answers from a private investigator hired in an effort clear Schuler’s name and their ultimate dissatisfaction with the results. But as the New York Times reports, the investigators’ findings are not what they hoped.

“There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane” premieres on HBO at Monday 9 p.m.



The trailer for “There’s something wrong with Aunt Diane,” which airs on HBO Monday at 9 p.m.

  • Arlene

    There is an article available on line since June 2007 called ‘Five Non-Intoxicating Uses for Smirnoff Vodka,’ where one of the uses is for numbing gums & aching teeth for children and adults, with a warning that applying vodka directly to an abscessed tooth can cause an infection. Another use is for cleaning. http://bit.ly/qG4foz

    The documentary makes clear Diane had had a bad toothache for 3 years, and that the tooth may haves abscessed. Friends also seemed to describe her as a cleaning nut — ironing everything, for example.

    THC in the body could have been there for weeks.

  • sarah

    The autopsy (available online) did not show an abcess. But, no matter..whatever the vodka was used for she had the equivalent of ten shots in her. The report said she had smoked close to the time of the accident.

  • adam

    She was high as a kite and most likely wasn’t used to driving high and drunk. Either way with kids in the car she shouldn’t have used alcohol. She had an excessive amount not needed to a tooth ache. Something seemed strange about the family and I feel bad for her husband because he can’t accept that she was clearly at fault and likely had a mental breakdown possibly a panic attach due to being so high and wasted.

  • Marj

    I found this film quite disturbing. The story is disturbing, of course, but the film left so many unanswered questions that I just didn’t see the point of telling this story now. It went into great detail on whatever existing evidence they could find, but didn’t quite go anywhere.

  • bonnie gerard

    Is the documenary going to be on again or where can I see it please?

    • Blackie

      I wondered why they didn’t interview the dentist. My husband is a dentist and when I told him about this he said it was quite possible for the infection to have just exploded. Often when he has patients in extreme pain they will arrive in his office smelling of alcohol because they were trying to self medicate. An oral infection is a dangerous thing and the infection can go into the brain since there are roots through the sinus. Given her perfectionist personality and her belief that she could do anything she may have thought she could get home if she controlled the pain but then the whole thing got away from her. Really weird that they didn’t get the dentist to weigh in when that was the one medical clue they did have.

      • Cherish

        Then she should of had the common sense to NOT drive. Closet drinker caught.

  • some internet dude

    Aunt Diane licked the “pot” and the “booz” together at the same time while driving, with kids on board. Poor kids.

  • rachel mcray

    Look, drunk drivers kill millions. Marijuana killed no one. All I know is that if she was drunk, she would have been swerving. She was an incredibly responsible mother, to the point of being neurotic. Something happened to her. I don’t think it has anything to do with her tooth. I think she had a stroke. The kids said she couldn’t see. Perhaps she was in pain, there was an abcess- which caused infection and subsequently a stroke or blood clot?
    Drunk and high or no, no one can drive two miles on a highway travelling in the wrong direction drunk. She was alert and responsive. Passing motorists describe her movements as calculated and exact. She would not do this. I’m sorry. She was a mother, and she wasn’t neccessarily losing it. I think for them to refuse to exhume her body and to chalk it up to pot and alcohol? There is something wrong there.
    Why wouldn’t she just pull over?
    Why wouldn’t she just pull over and wait for help?
    Was she really just that messed up that she didn’t want anyone to see?
    I can’t believe that that would happen. As a mother, I can’t believe that.
    She would not intentionally do this.

    • SkippyJonJones

      She didn’t have a stroke. Two separate examinations show that she had 10 shots worth of alcohol in her system and a gut full of alcohol that hadn’t been digested yet. More than likely she was disoriented and without sight because she was edging into alcohol poisoning.she is responsible for that accident. To drink that much, then smoke marijuana, it doesn’t matter what kind of pain she was in, she should have stopped and called someone. The marijuana would have made her innebriation more euphoric. She couldn’t call her brother for help because she knew her dirty little secret would see daylight and people would see her as a person with flaws. A car full of strangers decimated, 4 dead babies, gut and blood full of alcohol and THC, and she was the victim? How do we reach this conclusion?

  • dawn

    Why didn’t Diane just pull over and get help? If she was this wonderful super mom, why did she continue to drive? Why didn’t she even get help from a stranger? Was this suicide? Was she jealous of her brothers life? Was she more miserable than she let on? Was she a closet alcoholic? Obviously, she knew where to get pot for she smoked it at night according to her sister in law and husband. A stroke would show up on the autopsy report. If she had one drink in her system, then one could argue that perhaps a medical reason was to blame. She had 10 drinks in her. That alone is a problem.

  • Ian M. Clark

    Either I missed it, but Diane’s “Thought Processing Network” of her brain should be the focus of the investigation. What she thought she was doing was right simply becuase several distractions. I dont think she was drunk. I am a professional driver and even though I wake up the next morning THINKING I am sober, there is still alcohol in my system. Her sleep may have disturbed being somewhere other than home. Her REMS.

    I can speak of experience becuase the same situation happened to me. Fortunately, I got help before any damage or trauma occured.

  • Ebony Grigsby LeBlanc

    This documentary was disturbing and sad on so many levels. It continued to leave many unanswered questions.
    One thing seems clear, Diane Schuler had a high level of alcohol in her system and THC, the active chemical in marijuana. Another is that she is responsible for the deaths of eight people. Anything beyond that is probably never going to be resolved.
    Thing is, if Diane were me, my husband would protest my innocence and my good name the same way Daniel Schuler is for his wife. What does a family do when they know that their loved one isn’t the demon alcholic and drug addict she is portrayed to be? Could it be possible that there really could have been something medically wrong with her? She looked for pain medication hours before the crash and told her brother that she was disoriented and having trouble seeing. Could it also be possible that a good mother, wife and woman been in such pain that she misjudged a possible sip from that bottle of vodka in her car into too much of a swallow? The marijuana could have been in her system for weeks or was she really smoking a joint in the car with five kids fifteen minutes before the crash? If that were true why didn’t anyone test the children for THC levels to see if there was any exposure? All you need is a hair sample, and they could’ve given Diane one to see about her marijuana history.
    I think that demonizing this woman isn’t the answer to the questions. It doesn’t help the families of the three men that died. The Bastardi family suing Diane’s brother who lost his three daughters in the same crash is disgraceful and in the end, is that going to make it better for you? Daniel Schuler is suing his Diane’s brother too, is that going to make your loss easier? Every family involved is suffering and seeming to take it out on each other, even though every one of them is in the same boat. In the end there seems to be no resolution to feeling better.

    • Cherish

      We don’t know WHAt she stopped for that day, police never talked to the attendant because they had nothing to offer. Daniel’s hired hand said that.

  • OJ

    Working in mental health for 6yrs and detox clients for 2…first of all…this is a sad story…..my heart
    Goes out the victims families but this sounded like susan had some mental issues along with a Planned
    Suicide…..that not only took her life but other innocent lives.

    • Brandy “The Mi$$i$”

      Her name is Diane Sculer stupid (OJ)!!! Get your sh*t straight!!

      • Evil Unicorn

        you must be from the east coast, you rude idiot.

  • aleea

    Diane Schuler had too much THC in her system to have simply smoked some pot,,,plus who smokes in front of 8 year old nieces who are sure to tell their parents? The only way to absorb that much THC in such a short time is to ingest it. I suspect Diane ate a medical thc laced brownie or other treat then after the onset of cotton mouth and the loss of reason guzzled the Vodka (that for some reason everyone knew was in the back seat.) Did she mean to do it? Probably not. Why the f#^% didn’t she pull over? Too belligerent apparently to admit she was wrong.

  • cityslicker

    I think she wanted to die.

    • jenny evans-morter

      ive wondered that too….yet with all the kids? And why did she attempt to make phone calls ….sounding ‘off’ not like herself as if she was ‘out of it’. And be willing tokill others ? Hitting them head on? I dont know…..never will.

  • Pina

    With all this speculation, the facts remain clear.
    Her toxicology reports ( tested twice) came back with High levels of alcohol and THC in her system. Let’s just deal with the facts and move forward so her brother and sister in law can have some closer for their loss of their family.

  • Amandapryz

    There’s a place in the documentary where they show a list of prescription drugs that Diane had been prescribed. I remember reading “Ambian” on that list and thinking the documentary was going to end with that as the cause, but it didn’t and I never heard it mentioned. I have heard of many incidents of people on Ambian being pulled over and not knowing where they are or that they were driving. Other incidents of hallucinations or waking in the morning to discover they had eaten all their food during the night. I hope someone looks into Ambian as a possible reason for Diane’s out of character actions.

    • SkippyJonJones

      I take Ambien, so I have some history with the drug, but ambien only has a six hour chemical release, so she would have had to take it well after they started their trip. Chase ten shots down with some marijuana AND Ambien? Ambien wouldn’t show up in the toxicology reports after 6-8 hours after the time of ingestion. The 2 separate toxicology reports showed no signs of Ambien. Another thing to remember is the list of medications was total, it wasn’t current. They were pointing out narcotic pain meds that were prescibed to her three years prior. Even though Ambien is on there it doesn’t mean it was even a recent prescription.

    • Debbie Uhl-Guerrera

      I agree with you!!! I expierienced the ambien side effects myself as per my husband’s account! I beleive this is the answer, she did not realize what she was doing at all, you only get brief seconds of alertness then you are in a dream state. I have also eaten the food in the night and had no idea of it. It was dangerous though because I am a diabetic. When I was in this unaware state my Husband said I was getting dressed with the keys in hand for the car and fighting him to go out. I have seconds only of being aware I saw myself getting dressed and then no memory at all! Dear God, I know that this is the answer to Diane’s state of mind and how people said how she appeared! If anyone else has had bad side effects from Ambien, please write in!!

  • jenny evans-morter

    This is very unsettling….something isnt right. Yes facts are facts yet this woman showed absolutely no behaviors supporting addiction. Addicts do NOT successfully work fulltime and continue prospering in that career…then go home and consistently care for their children in such a meticulous way….ironing even her baby’s clothes. Yet what happened….her erratic yet intentional driving. And the bottle of vodka in the van? I will never connect the dots here. It will Never make sense.This lady sure did not fit the desription of a ‘drinker’. At all…

    • Pia

      Are you for real? “Did not fit the description of a drinker”. You STILL think drunks sit on park benches howling at the moon? What bothers ME more than anything else in this is how SO many people like you don´t understand how alcohol and drug abuse affect ALL classes, all types, all ages, all ethnicities!

      • jenny

        Are you for real???? I’m a recovering addict and understand addiction very well…. Sorry you obviously misread my statement… Are you for real? Reread it Hater. I understand alcoholism VERY WELL. You rush n judge… Everything I wrote made sense and reflects what I believe… Share your own beliefs w out going off on others

      • jenny

        I knew a pia in ojai :) oh pia … If you only knew who you were talking to…. Haha … You’d take every word you typed back realizing you misread or misinterpreted what I wrote…. I know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction …. Take care … Try not to RUSH to judgement

    • SkippyJonJones

      My Grandmother was an alcoholic. She was a manager for Red Roof Inn, she never had a speeding ticket, She raised 5 kids on her own after my Grandfather had a stroke, and she took care of him and her home. She drank 3-4 gallons of Canadian Mist whiskey a week, and the only way we found out was through watching our Grandfather buy it for her. Alcoholics can hide their alcoholism very easily if no one is paying attention.

      • jenny

        Doesn’t matter what any if you tell me…. Addicts and alcoholics DO NOT hold it all down. Once the addiction takes over there are many signs and they no longer can hold it ALL down. If so we’d all stay functioning alcoholic addicts……why quit? THE DISEASE PROGRESSES ….. Every situation is different however there is a common thread…. The disease progresses…. No longer can we take care of all our responsibilities … Eventually the disease wins….
        I send love to anyone struggling

  • Evil Unicorn

    She killed innocent children and other drivers. They found alcohol in her system, the evidence is clear. The family is in DENIAL. You may think you know someone, but everyone has secrets and or unknown habits. She was drunk and high, and this family needs to accept this and move on. I don’t fell sorry for this loser, I feel bad for the children who had to die because of her stupidity.

    • Evil Unicorn


  • Debbie Uhl-Guerrera

    The only time I heard of behaviour like this has been when someone has been taking the drug AMBIEN! I know that the side effects of this medication has left people in their waking hours almost sleep walking with irratic behaviour and moving along the day with eyes open, driving, everything you can think of however they are not awake!! This was on Dr. Phil and a woman actually had her children taken away for endangerment that she has only brief moments of recall other than that no memory and she drove I beleive! I was wondering if Diane was taking this medication at all? She would had only had brief moments to seconds at a time of reality which would explain alot!!!

  • Ann
  • Ann

    There is a story about eating too much of a certain type of food, sugars turn into ethanol in his body where he acted 3x drunker. It is a shame people assume the worst. Some medical anomalies are not well known. Please read Huffington post where a man from Texas had this issue. Barely drank and acted extremely drunk. Why else would Diane’s family deny?

  • toemasie .

    Police know what really happened. They refuse to tell.

↑ Back to top

About Us    Contact Us    The MetroFocus Team   Mobile   WNET Pressroom   Privacy Policy    Terms of Service

Mutual of America


MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Judy and Josh Weston, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold and the Metropolitan Media Fund. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America, your retirement company.
© 2015 WNET    All Rights Reserved.    825 Eighth Avenue    New York, NY 10019