Mom of girls killed in wrong-way crash: New baby 'brought us back to life'
When Jackie Hance and her husband lost their three daughters in a two-car crash nearly four years ago, she felt she was too broken to be a mother again.
Her friends persisted in trying to convince her to have another baby, which seemed unlikely because she had had her tubes tied after the birth of her youngest daughter. However, she and her husband, Warren, visited a fertility specialist, and she was able to become pregnant. On Oct. 11, 2011, she gave birth to a daughter, Kasey Rose, who helped bring joy to the couple after the emotional devastation from the accident on the Taconic Parkway in New York in July 2009.
In their first interview since their daughters’ death, Jackie and Warren spoke to TODAY’s Ann Curry about the impact the birth of their young daughter has made on their lives.
“It just gives you a meaning again,’’ Warren said. “When you lose everything and then you get something to hold onto, there's really no way to be able to describe it."
“She brings a heartbeat to this house again,’’ Jackie said. “There was none. She brought us back to life.’’
The birth of Kasey Rose came after Jackie had been pushed to the brink of taking her own life due to the grief from the loss of their daughters, Emma, 8; Alyson, 7; and Katie, 5.
“I just wanted to be with the girls so bad that I got so emotional and so fixated on seeing them again,’’ Jackie said. “So the thought of being in this pain forever was just too much to handle. I'd been putting a few pills away from each prescription, and taking one or two from Warren's, and just hiding them.”
In July 2009, the three girls went on a camping trip with their aunt, Diane Schuler, and her husband, Danny. On the way home, Schuler drove nearly two miles in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway with five children in her minivan at speeds as high as 85 miles per hour, according to eyewitnesses. On the 911 tape released from the incident, a caller says Schuler was "going like a bat out of hell.''
Schuler's minivan eventually collided with an SUV, killing her and seven others, including her three nieces and her own daughter as well as Michael and Guy Bastardi and Daniel Longo, who were riding in the SUV. Only Diane’s 5-year-old son, Bryan, survived.
The results of a toxicology report indicated that Schuler had a blood-alcohol level more than two times the legal limit and marijuana in her system. Police also found a broken bottle of vodka in the wreckage. The Hances were stunned, as they had had no reservations about leaving their children with Schuler.
“I have known her for 20 years,’’ Jackie said. “She was a rock ... The girls loved her.”
In the midst of the fatal ride with Schuler, Hance’s daughter, Emma, called her on the phone in distress, saying, “Mommy, something’s wrong with Aunt Diane.”
“I didn't understand it,’’ Jackie said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I could hear Alyson crying in the background. I said, ‘Let me talk to Aunt Diane.’
“Diane got on the phone, and she said, ‘They're just playing. They're having fun.’ She just didn't sound right. She wasn’t making any sense.”
The loss of their daughters overwhelmed the couple with grief. To honor their daughters’ memory, they started the Hance Family Foundation, which helps young girls build confidence and self esteem.
“Does it keep one person out of trouble?’’ Warren told Curry about the foundation. “Does it keep one girl from feeling bad about themselves for one day? I know we've made a difference. Where that difference goes tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, you can only dream.”
To help support the foundation financially, Jackie has written a book, “I’ll See You Again,’’ in which she writes about hope in the face of suffering and the spirit of her girls.
"They were my life,’’ Jackie said. “They were the reason I was put here, I believe, because they were really amazing girls.”
Curry’s full interview with Hance and her husband, Warren, will air on Rock Center With Brian Williams on Friday.