July 31st, 2011 12:32 EST
Worst Automobile Accident in U.S. History? Diane Schuler and a New HBO Documentary
"There`s so much more to the story." Jay Schuler
Gerald Salerno is traveling south on Interstate 87 in the state of New York, at 12:00 PM on July 26, 2009. It`s a Sunday afternoon. Gerald is in the middle lane.
Suddenly, he can see a vehicle on his tail in his rearview mirror. The car moves over to the right lane, then jerks back over to the middle lane.
What`s wrong with this driver? When she moves back over to the middle lane (a second time), she cuts off another car. Gerald observes her changing lanes aggressively. Why is she doing this?
Gerald also observes the heads of children swaying from the motion of the jerking vehicle. (Another observation of Gerald Salerno), some degree of precision is employed in these lane changes.
Just 13 minutes later, on the Harriman Toll Plaza, Francis and Jean Bagley have a harrowing encounter with the very same car and driver. Francis thought he had passed this car (a red Ford minivan) a few minutes before, but suddenly the minivan is tailgating him. "She was so close to me, I couldn`t see her headlights."
"I braced myself for an accident," says Jean Bagley. The woman tries to pass the Bagleys on the shoulder. Francis thinks she must be some kind of nut. Francis and Jean want to stop at the rest area. It`s 12:13 PM and the Ramapo service area is the next exit.
The red minivan is right behind them and is now honking the horn. Both vehicles exit at the rest stop, but the minivan cuts across the grass over to the truck stop section.
Jean observes a woman, who has gotten out of the vehicle, and is bent over holding her legs as if she is about to be sick to her stomach. The apparently shaken Bagleys leave the Ramapo, which has a MacDonalds, at exactly 12:30 PM. They look around for this mystery woman, to see if she`s alright, but she is nowhere to be found.
These are just three important witnesses who give cameo appearances in a startlingly shocking new documentary from HBO, There`s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. It`s directed by Liz Garbus and produced by Liz Garbus and Julie Gaither (not just thrown together, very thoughtful).
In spite of what some critics have said about this documentary, this is a well-balanced presentation of an automobile accident that may go down in the books as the worst accident in U.S. history.
I see several separate story lines weaving through this fascinating documentary, that attempt to unravel an enigma that continues in a role of undoing us (but especially the families) for a little more than two years now.
I observe four distinct, parallel plot lines in the documentary. I may find yet another one, once I watch it again (you never know)?
The primary threads of narrative (as I see it) are the actual car crash itself, Diane Schuler`s life, what Daniel Schuler and his sister-in-law (Jay Schuler) are up to now, and finally, most important of all, a precise timeline (with maps, film footage, cell phone calls, and pivotal witnesses) of Diane`s journey (with two children and three nieces) from the camping trip site in the Catskills to her final destination, a random roadside meadow, right off of the Taconic State Parkway.
I might add in one other thread of narrative, where several psychiatrists provide some interpretation, some insights into Diane`s peculiar behavior on July 26, 2009.
The husband, Daniel Schuler, and many others are portraying Diane as practically a paragon of perfection, in her role as a mother, her efficiencies in completing various tasks, and in her performance at her job at Cablevision.
But what was her Achilles Heel? This is touched on many times in the documentary. I`d have to say it was her mother, who had left the family when Diane was only 7-years-old.
If you desire to understand this case, the issue with the mother is worthy of much more investigation. Diane harbored a deep resentment towards her mother, but never discussed the reasons for the resentment with anyone.
Slowly but surely other flaws in Diane`s character are starting to surface. I will link you to an article (maybe the best one that`s come out so far) written for New York Magazine and by Steve Fishman, entitled: I Dream of Diane (published November 15, 2009). Steve mentions several incidents in the article that are not mentioned in the HBO documentary.
Diane had a small problem with impulsive shopping sprees. One time, when going out for milk, she just happened to pick up a flat-screen TV. Another time, when going grocery shopping, Diane came home with a Jeep Cherokee.
That`s not exactly a small incursion into the family finances, in my mind. But the thing is, Danny didn`t really mind, since he adored every one of Diane`s shenanigans (a bolder word choice).
Two other vulnerable aspects to Diane`s character make-up are brought up in the HBO special. These take on a greater meaning in light of the fatal car crash.
Their precise relevance to the fatal, tragic event at 1:35 PM on Taconic State Parkway is elusive, nonetheless. One is the issue of rapid weight gain shortly before the accident.
I might note, however, the drastic weight fluctuations had occurred all of Diane`s life. But look at how heavy she looks on the surveillance footage at the Sunoco filling station? Could secretive, excessive alcohol consumption account for a portion of the weight gain?
Another oddity, surely a hint at hidden hostility, was a persistent use of the horn when driving. Was Diane Schuler guilty of road rage?
Christine Lipani, Diane`s best friend and neighbor, talks about how Diane would urge her to use her horn, to more effectively get the upper hand when on the road. Mrs Schuler nearly ran the Bagleys off the road (you might recall), around an hour and twenty minutes before the crash.
Let me not fail to mention how important of a role is played by the music in There`s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane. The music is done by Jonathan Zalban and gives a minimal ting of atmosphere and revelry to an already vastly intriguing story.
Did Diane drink very much? Did she smoke marijuana only casually, or did she smoke it perpetually, chronically? Why did she smoke it? Did she put a bottle of vodka close to her grip on 7/26/`09?
Why did she choose to indulge (in drink and smoke) right in front of the kids on this day in particular? And why was she looking for over-the-counter pain relievers at the Sunoco gas station earlier on in her journey?
The mystery of these cosmic questions is significantly enhanced by Jonathan Zalban`s soundtrack. I just barely scratched the surface on this must see HBO documentary (I will commit to further parts). "I thought it was someone who was dead-set on killing us all." (Lorna Ramos-Morel).
My best assessment (for the moment) is that Diane was in a BLACK OUT the last minute of her life, as she was racing in the wrong direction at 70MPH.
Her mind was gone, but her motor-skills still functioned on autopilot. Was she committing suicide or even murder? It`s possible.
I Dream of Diane by Steve Fishman - New York Magazine - November 15, 2009