THE BLOG
08/07/2009 10:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who to Believe in Diane Schuler Taconic Tragedy?

Who should we believe?

On the one hand we have a distraught husband who now says his wife did not drink and a lawyer known for antics both inside and outside the courtroom who would have us believe that Diane Schuler killed herself and seven others when she drove in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway because she was a) possibly diabetic; b) suffering from a tooth abscess; c) had a lump on her leg that may have been traveling to her brain.

On the other hand we have autopsy and toxicology reports from a state-of-the art crime lab that not only ruled out the possibility that Diane Schuler suffered from a stroke, heart attack or diabetic episode, but found she was both drunk (to the point of being twice the legal limit) and high on marijuana.

When asked to account for those toxicology reports, Dominic A. Barbara, the lawyer now representing Diane Schuler's husband Daniel, said the Long Island mother might have been slugging down alcohol in a misguided attempt to increase her blood sugar level.

"You might want to self-medicate with something to bring the level up," he said at a news conference held yesterday on Long Island.

We'll have to wait and see if the American Diabetes Association recognizes Mr. Barbara's unique take on diabetic behavior as one they have seen amongst the 23 million adults and children in this country who actually have a formal diagnosis of the disease.

Yesterday's news conference with Diane Schuler's husband Daniel was painful to watch and no one can help but be moved by the emotion shown by a man clearly suffering from the loss of his daughter and wife. Nor was there any reason to doubt the devotion Daniel Schuler pledged to the lone survivor of the crash: his five-year-old son Bryan who is recovering at Westchester Medical Center.

But there was something unsettling about the event as well, particularly when Schuler described his now deceased wife. Asked whether he thought she had a drinking problem, he was emphatic: "Definitely not," he said. "She was a perfect wife."

Schuler went on to describe the 36-year-old Diane as "An outstanding mother, hard worker, reliable person, trustworthy."

Those are moving words and the kind of tribute you might expect from a grief-ridden husband.

But they are also the words recognizable to anyone who has ever attended a meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous or Al-Anon, the type of denial that runs rampant through the families of those whose drinking has spun out of control, yet who do not - or can not - recognize the signs that speak volumes (which in this case included a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent and a smashed vodka bottle at the scene of the accident).

"I never saw her drunk since the day I met her," Schuler said, his voice choking.

That may or may not be true. Long is the list of drinkers who who have been successful at hiding their problem from others, even from close family members. Regardless, it simply defies belief that a woman who had the equivalent of ten drinks of pure vodka in her system prior to the final tragic act that ended her life and that of seven others was someone who rarely drank.

This story continues to haunt us with unanswerable questions. But don't look to those who might know more to come clean anytime soon. State police who went to Mr. Schuler's home for a pre-arranged interview yesterday were rebuffed.

Nor would Schuler's lawyer allow him to respond to questions regarding the scientific findings that his wife had high levels of THC in her system, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Doubtless, Mr. Barbara will come up with a way to explain that. This is, after all, a lawyer well-versed in the pyrotechnics of courtroom drama, someone who first gained attention by representing Jessica Hahn (she of the dual career track of church secretary and Playboy model) whose affair with televangelist Jim Bakker made headlines in the late 80s. Mr. Barbara later went on to represent Mary Jo and Joey Buttafuocco in the infamous "Long Island Lolita" case of the early 90s.

Nor does Mr. Barbara shy away from self-promotion. Asked to sum up his courtroom style in an interview in Newsday in 1998, he described himself as bigger than life. "The reputation is that if you try a case with me, I'm going to kill you," he said.

Let's hope not. There's been far too much carnage in this case already.