Remembering the Taconic tragedy 10 years later

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Today marks a somber anniversary in Westchester, as it has now been 10 years since one of the deadliest accidents in county history, the tragic Taconic State Parkway crash.

Sunday, July 26, 2009, was a beautiful, clear sunny day. At around 1:30 p.m., 36-year-old Diane Schuler, of Long Island, drove her minivan the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway.

MORE: Archive video, extended interviews on the Taconic tragedy

MORE: “It’s something I can’t forgive” - Family of victims mourn Taconic Tragedy

MORE: "It was just overwhelming" - State trooper recounts Taconic Tragedy

Schuler was returning from a family camping trip in the Catskills. In the minivan were her two children, Erin, age 2, and Brian, age 5, along with Schuler's nieces, Emma, Alyson, and Katie Hance, ages 8, 7 and 5. The sisters were the children of Diane Schuler's brother.

News 12's Christine Insinga examines the tragedy - and hope - that emerged from the Taconic tragedy

 

Schuler got onto the northbound exit ramp of the Taconic State Parkway at Pleasantville Road in Briarcliff Manor. Then, for 1.7 miles she drove south on the northbound side of the parkway.

Dozens of drivers swerved to stay out of her way, honking their horns, flashing their lights and making frantic 911 calls as Schuler drove at speeds believed to be approximately 85 mph.

After almost 2 miles, Schuler slammed head-on into a Chevrolet Trailblazer causing a fiery crash.

Three men in the blazer, all from Yonkers, were killed. They included 43-year-old Guy Bastardi, his 81-year-old father Michael Bastard and a family friend, 72-year-old Daniel Longo.

Only one person from the minivan survived, Schuler's 5-year-old son. The rest of the children and Diane died. The crash left total of eight people dead, half of them children under the age of 10.

Toxicology reports later showed Diane Schuler had the equivalent of 10 vodka drinks in her system, with 6 more grams of alcohol in her stomach that had yet to be metabolized.

Reports also showed high levels of marijuana that could have been smoked anywhere from an hour to 15 minutes before the crash.

To this day Diane Schuler's husband and family insist she was not a heavy drinker, but later said she occasionally smoked marijuana.

Ten years later, the crash continues to haunt the first responders and investigators who handled the case.

"I've been on the job well over 30 years, and it definitely sticks out as one of the most sad cases I've ever worked just because of the amount of people who perished, the children, the Bastardis, it's just a sad, sad case all around," says State Police Lead Investigator Joe Becerra. “And of course you think about it all the time, you can't help but think about it. And every time I go up and down the Taconic and I pass that spot, it always comes back.”

VIDEO: Extended interview with the Bastardi family:

 

Ten years later, there are still unanswered questions for some of the families of the victims.

"We have gone on with our lives, holding their memories in our hearts with love, but not a day goes by that we don't think about our loss on July 26, 2009,” the Bastardi family said in a statement to News 12. “We are still holding on to hope that someday we will have clarity on all our unanswered questions in regard to that tragic day."

 

 

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