Westchester County Fatal Accident–Was It Unavoidable?

In the wake of the horrific Westchester fatal car crash which killed 36 year old Diane Schuler, her 2 year old daughter, three young nieces, and three men on their way to a Sunday lunch with family, there is this question: Was this terrible tragedy avoidable? We have all heard the main facts by now–A 36 year old woman with her infant daughter, young son, and three young nieces in her minivan, on her way home from a weekend camping trip in Sullivan County, drives the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway for almost two miles, and collides head on with a Chevy Trailblazer occupied by Michael Bastardi, his son Guy Bastardi, and family friend Daniel Longo. All except Schuler’s five year old son Bryan were killed in the crash, and we now learn that at the time of the accident, Ms. Schuler had a blood alcohol content of .19, (which is almost triple the legal limit of .08), six grams of alcohol in her stomach, and high levels of THC from smoking marijuana within one hour of the Westchester County car crash.

There have been numerous accounts of other drivers seeing Ms. Schuler driving erratically on Routes 17 and 87, weaving in and out of lanes, tailgating and driving across grassy medians. There were several reports that once on the Taconic Parkway northbound (in what Schuler apparently believed was the right lane of the parkway southbound), drivers were beeping their horns, flashing their headlights, and calling 911, all to no avail. It is particularly tragic that with the usual police presence on each of these roadways, (especially on Route 17 and the Taconic), that Ms. Schuler was never stopped and arrested for DWI.

But there is another issue to address here for each of us. If confronted with a car proceeding toward you the wrong way on a high speed roadway, what would you do? Let’s start out with some basic estimates and facts. Assuming that the Schuler and Bastardi vehicles were each traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour, that means that the vehicles were moving toward each other at approximately 175 feet per second–120 m.p.h @1.467 feet per second. There is a wide variance in brake reaction time statistically, but generally speaking, the range is between 1.5 seconds and 3 seconds. Then there is what is known as brake engagement distance, (how long it takes the brakes to begin slowing the car once the foot depresses the pedal), which some studies have indicated is about 0.3 seconds. Adding on what is known as physical force distance– how far the vehicle would continue to travel before it stopped, at least another 150 feet would be needed for each vehicle to come to a stop.

As a regular driver on the Taconic Parkway northbound each evening, I have observed the location of the accident, and to the left of the passing lane where Mr Bastardi was driving, is a minimal shoulder of maybe 5 feet followed by a steep downward sloped grassy median. It is unclear if there were any vehicles to Mr. Bastardi’s immediate right, and Ms. Schuler would have been traveling straight at Mr. Bastardi for approximately 2/10 of a mile after a slight curve to the right. From all of the above, I would estimate that if he was paying good attention to the road ahead of him, Mr. Bastardi might have had 2-3 seconds to see the Schuler vehicle, (figuring that he might have seen the Schuler car when it was 500 feet away), and during that time, he would have needed to react in 1 second, apply his brake and steer clear of the oncoming vehicle. This seems like an almost impossible task, and we must also take into account that it was a Sunday afternoon, with family, driving in the middle of the day during a light traffic period–not a time where you would be on your guard for a life saving split second decision.

Defensive driving classes teach you to anticipate those places and situations on the road where a head-on collision is possible, such as curvy roads where the other driver could lose control. You are supposed to use your headlights in daylight, to make the other driver think about you. Drive on the right side of your lane, to have more room between your car and the other driver moving into your lane. Lastly, we are taught that if another driver is coming at you in your lane, to turn right, not left, since the other driver will likely turn to their right, enhancing the collision. The idea is to not hit something square, and try for a glancing blow if at all possible. Tragically, that did not happen in this case, with horrendous results.

Please contact the White Plains Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you or a loved on is injured in a car accident or any other type of accident for a free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable attorney to discuss your case.