In never-before-heard 911 tapes, a family friend tells emergency dispatchers that at least one of the terrified kids in the July Taconic Parkway wrong-way crash managed to call relatives to plead for help just minutes before she died in a head-on collision that killed eight of the nine people involved.
"The girls just called in distress," the friend tells dispatchers, apparently referring to driver Diane Schuler's three nieces who were in the car. "They said the aunt is driving very erratically. They think she's sick."
The family tried to call back, but by then the girls were "like radio silent on the cell phones," the friend said. Other tapes describe authorities attempting to organize a search for the vehicle, unaware it was already too late. With four children in car, Schuler drove nearly two miles the wrong way down New York's Taconic State Parkway before plowing head-on into another vehicle.
In another 911 call a woman, apparently a witness to the crash's gruesome aftermath, described the horrifying scene.
"Yeah there are [injuries]," the woman said as another screams in the background. "There are like little kids. The kids [are] not moving. There's a whole bunch of kids. Honestly the car's smashed."
Schuler, her two-year-old daughter and three nieces were killed in the crash along with the three men in the other vehicle. Schuler's five-year-old son Bryan was the crash's only survivor and suffered two broken legs and a broken arm among other serious injuries.
Toxicology reports after the crash revealed that Schuler had been drunk and high at the time of the accident and had a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. Investigators could not determine if Schuler had been drinking while she was driving, but alcohol was in her stomach at the time of the autopsy and a bottle of vodka was found at the crash scene, New York State Police Major William Carey said at a press conference.
Wrongway Driver's Husband Denies Alcohol Use
Schuler's husband, Daniel Schuler, has repeatedly denied that his wife was a drinker and has insisted that the toxicology report was wrong.
"She did not drink. She was not an alcoholic," Schuler said Aug. 6. "Something medically had to have happened."
Schuler was driving home with the children from a campground in upstate New York, where witnesses said she seemed "fine."
Irving Anolik, attorney for the family of Guy and Michael Bastardi, two of the men killed in the other car, told "Good Morning America" in August that he "categorically" rejected the idea that the wreck was caused by any medical emergency, as Daniel Schuler had suggested.
"This is a killing. Don't call it an accident," Anolik, attorney for the Bastardi family who lost a father and son in the wreck, told "Good Morning America." Anolik said that any medical condition theories are "at war with the autopsy report, with the blood analysis, with the whole panorama of things that surround this killing."
Schuler hired private investigator Thomas Ruskin to look into the accident. According to Ruskin, Schuler looked "completely" normal when she stopped at a convenient store to purchase Tylenol or Advil just hours before the crash.
Investigators had hoped that as the crash's sole survivor, Bryan would be able to shed light on the minutes that led up to the crash, but the boy has not said much, Ruskin said.
"He doesn't seem to remember right now," Ruskin told "Good Morning America" Oct. 16. "He is 5 years old and he is recovering from very severe injuries. Fracture plus head trauma he suffered as part of the injuries at the accident."
Ruskin said he is now running his own tests to determine exactly what happened that day in hopes of piecing together the moments that led up to the crash.