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Video: Wrong-way crash victims’ family speaks out

TODAY contributor
updated 9/4/2009 9:18:24 AM ET 2009-09-04T13:18:24

While the husband of the wrong-way driver who caused a head-on highway crash that killed eight people wants her body exhumed to prove she wasn’t drunk, the attorney for some of the victims’ relatives called on him to provide a hair sample of his own.

The demand was made Friday by Irving Anolik during an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. Anolik appeared with his clients, Margaret Nicotina and Roseanne Guzzo, whose father, Michael Bastardi, and brother, Guy Bastardi, were among those killed in the July 26 crash on New York’s Taconic Parkway.

The Westchester County, N.Y., medical examiner determined that Diane Schuler, who drove a van filled with five children the wrong way down the parkway, was drunk and high on marijuana at the time of the accident, which also took her life along with the lives of four of the five children in her car and a third person in the Bastardi vehicle.

Another autopsy?
Schuler’s husband, Daniel Schuler, has insisted his wife did not drink and could not have been drunk. He recently repeated his claims in an appearance on “Larry King Live” and said he is requesting that his wife’s body be exhumed and another autopsy conducted. He claims that his wife had an underlying medical condition that caused false test readings.

His attorney said that she expects the request for a second autopsy to be granted.

Nicotina and Guzzo have expressed outrage at Schuler’s claims. They welcomed another autopsy, and Anolik added another test he’d like to have done — on Daniel Schuler.

“I would challenge Mr. Schuler and his lawyer to voluntarily contribute hair samples from Mr. Schuler, because, in my opinion, it is inconceivable that the deceased was using marijuana without the knowledge of her husband, and I suspect that if his hair follicles are examined, it will show that he also had plenty of drugs over a period of time,” Anolik said.

The lawyer said that hair samples preserve a record of drug use over a period of four or five months. He said if Diane Schuler’s body is exhumed, he will also ask that hair samples be taken from it.

Attorney Irving Anolik joined Roseanne Guzzo (center) and Margaret Nicotina on TODAY to discuss the wrong-way crash that killed their loved ones.
“We would insist that samples of the hair follicles of the deceased be taken to determine what in fact was in her system in addition to the tests that were made,” the attorney told Vieira.

Conflicting claims
Although Schuler has admitted that he and his wife would occasionally drink pina coladas, he insists his wife was not drunk when she got in her car to drive home from a weekend outing. During her drive home from upstate New York, she called her brother to say she did not feel well. He told her to stay off the road, but she got back in the car and drove down an exit ramp onto the Taconic Parkway. After driving nearly two miles in the wrong direction, she collided head-on with the Bastardi vehicle.

“I know my wife was not drinking,” Schuler told Larry King. “She doesn’t drink.”

Video: Family of crash victims speaks out Nicotina and Guzzo said Schuler’s statements are painful to listen to.

“The hardest part was the denial,” Guzzo said. “They admitted to her drinking pina coladas. In People magazine, she drank daiquiris. It’s bizarre to me how these people are coming on the air questioning the results of the autopsy.”

On “Larry King Live,” King asked Schuler what he would say to Nicotina and Guzzo.

“I’d say that a drunk driver did not do this to your family. Something medically had to have happened,” Schuler replied. He has claimed that his wife had a stroke while driving. He has also said his wife had a continuing problem with a tooth abcess and also had an unexplained lump on her leg. But the autopsy found no signs of any of the problems Schuler listed.

‘Totally outrageous’
“It makes me angry that he keeps denying it,” Nicotina told Vieira. “Every time he does it, he brings it back for us. I just wish that he would just admit that she was drunk, maybe if he knows what happened that morning, if they argued or anything, that would be the truth. He wants the truth. So do we.”

Guy Bastardi (left) and Michael Bastardi were killed in the crash, along with the wrong-way driver and five others.

The two women said they are starting an organization to reach mothers who are closet drinkers and who also drive. “I’ve heard of a lot of moms who are drinking and driving,” Guzzo said. “Maybe they can get more counseling. I’d like to see more preventive measures done.”

But as for Daniel Schuler, Nicotina said only an admission of the facts found during the autopsy will help bring closure.

Added Anolik: “The position of the Schulers is totally outrageous, is contrary to common sense and, I think, is an insult to the intelligence of the American public. They’re perpetrating a hoax.”

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