Husband of Taconic Crash's Diane Schuler Sues N.Y. State

On 2nd anniversary of horrific crash, film explores mindset of Diane Schuler.

ByABC News
May 19, 2010, 3:02 PM

July 26, 2011— -- Two years after the horrific Taconic State Parkway crash, the husband of Diane Schuler is suing New York State and the father of three nieces who were killed when the Long Island mother drove the wrong way, slamming head-on into another vehicle and killing eight.

Daniel Schuler, who has asked that his wife's body be exhumed, has maintained all along that she was a perfect wife and mother with no alcohol problems. Diane Schuler and her 2-year-old daughter also died in the accident.

He alleges the highway was badly designed and inadequately sign-posted, which enabled his wife to drive the wrong way into traffic, according to the New York Post. He also alleges in his lawsuit that the Chevy Trailblazer the family had borrowed from his brother-in-law Warren Hance, was faulty.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Tom Ruskin, who was hired by the Schulers to investigate the accident, told the Post. "His wife was drunk and high at the time of the accident that killed seven innocent people. You don't keep suing people...If she was alive today, Diane would likely be in jail."

Today marks the two year anniversary of the tragedy, and now, an HBO documentary, "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane," asks if Diane Schuler's obsessive perfectionism may have contributed to the crash. Friends and family tell filmmaker Filmmaker Liz Garbus that in every aspect of her life, Diane Schuler strived to be the best.

The film, which will air every Monday night until Aug. 15., portrays the 36-year-old "super mom" as a control freak haunted by a dark past: Her mother abandoned Schuler when she was 9.

Garbus attempts to piece together the psychological puzzle of Schuler's state of mind before the 2009 accident, one of the worst in state history. Only her son Bryan, then 5, survived.

People who knew Schuler said she was a stable, devoted and trustworthy mother, not someone who would put others, especially her children, at risk.

But toxicology reports at the time revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 -- the equivalent of 10 drinks -- and considerable levels of THC from smoking marijuana.

The accident made national news. Schuler was canonized by her family, who challenged the autopsy results, and vilified by those who called her a reckless drunk and even a "scumbag."

The film follows Schuler's husband, Daniel, and her sister-in-law, Jay Schuler, who for two years have been trying to clear her name, insisting a medical emergency was to blame.

It strips away Schuler's perfect veneer. Those closest to her say she hid the pain of her mother's abandonment. Although her three brothers reconciled with their mother, Schuler refused, according to her husband.

"She never complained about it," one friend said on camera. "She never talked about it, almost like she wasn't even there."

Instead, Schuler earned a top salary as a cable-TV executive, was a take-charge wife, raised two impeccably dressed children and volunteered enthusiastically at their school.

"It's a kind of fundamental perfectionism, so that life becomes unbearable in some ways," forensic psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bursztajn told "After the fact, we can see the breakdown patients suffer when they feel they have to be great, otherwise they are no good.

"For someone like Diane, they try harder and harder and they will never be satisfied with being good enough," he said. "But that was an impossible way to live and to be human at the same time."

Friends said she smoked marijuana at night to help her sleep but that Schuler showed no signs of alcoholism. Indeed, they said, she hardly drank.

Bursztajn, a clinical psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who was interviewed for the film, said when trauma doesn't heal, it can have catastrophic consequences.

"Diane could not forgive her mother or herself," he said. "She compensated in the present for what she lost in the past.

"It's a puzzle," Bursztajn added. "She was not someone who was mean. Not someone who was bad. And yet look what happened. It was a profound catastrophe."

For the first time, filmmaker Garbus interviews eyewitnesses, first responders, investigators and medical and psychiatric experts and draws on surveillance footage, family photos, news clips and expert testimony to explore events surrounding the crash to see how things went so wrong.