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April 17, 2014

'Law & Order' Fictionalizes the Taconic Parkway Tragedy -- Is It Too Soon?

by Tom Conroy, posted Oct 22nd 2009 5:01PM
Law & OrderSince its first episode aired 20 years ago, 'Law & Order' has specialized in dramatizing crime stories that are, as they say, "ripped from the headlines."

According to an article in The New York Post, an upcoming episode of the series may be fictionalizing a tragedy that is too fresh.

On July 26 of this year, Diane Schuler, 36, was driving in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway north of New York City when her minivan collided with an SUV. Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter and her three young nieces were killed, as were the three men in the SUV.

An autopsy later revealed that Schuler's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit and that she had marijuana in her system.

According to the Post, last week a 'Law & Order' crew was shooting a scene in upper Manhattan in which a woman drove a minivan filled with young children in the wrong lane on a busy street. The scene ended with a fiery car crash. The episode is reportedly set to air in November.Law & OrderSince its first episode aired 20 years ago, 'Law & Order' has specialized in dramatizing crime stories that are, as they say, "ripped from the headlines."

According to an article in The New York Post, an upcoming episode of the series may be fictionalizing a tragedy that is too fresh.

On July 26 of this year, Diane Schuler, 36, was driving in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway north of New York City when her minivan collided with an SUV. Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter and her three young nieces were killed, as were the three men in the SUV.

An autopsy later revealed that Schuler's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit and that she had marijuana in her system.

According to the Post, last week a 'Law & Order' crew was shooting a scene in upper Manhattan in which a woman drove a minivan filled with young children in the wrong lane on a busy street. The scene ended with a fiery car crash. The episode is reportedly set to air in November.

Relatives of the people who died in the real-life accident have expressed their concern over the fictionalizing of the tragedy.

'Law & Order' is "grabbing a tragedy, and they're going to get people to watch it," Michael Bastardi Jr., who lost his father and brother in the crash, told the Post. And a spokesman for Daniel Schuler, the widower of the driver, contended that NBC "is highlighting a very sensational story for their own ratings."



An NBC spokesperson told the Post that "'Law & Order' is fiction," but wouldn't discuss details of the script further.

It's also possible that the show may be incorporating elements of an even more recent New York drunk-driving death: On Oct. 11, Carmen Huertas was driving her daughter and six young friends to a slumber party at her home in the Bronx when her car swerved off the highway, killing one of the passengers.

'Law & Order' routinely takes liberties with true stories. In its very first episode, the defendant seemed to have been based on the then-notorious "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian, but the fictional physician ended the lives of people with AIDS, not terminal elderly patients.

Since then, 'Law & Order,' along with its multiple spin-offs, has run episodes alluding to a litany of high-profile crimes and misdemeanors, some of which have since lapsed into obscurity: the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson, the Eliot Spitzer scandal, the "preppy murder," the Menendez brothers, the Lizzie Grubman driving accident. Sometimes two real stories are mashed into one: A 2004 episode managed to combine Sept. 11 widows and the Staten Island ferry crash.

Jon and Kate Plus 8More recently, the Oct. 16 episode featured characters based on Jon and Kate Gosselin, as well as "Octomom" Nadya Suleman, and it showed just how far an episode's plot can stray from its source. As far as we know, neither the Gosselins nor Suleman has ever been involved in a murder.

When the drunk-driving episode airs, it is likely that by the end of the hour, the plot will have taken so many twists and turns that most viewers will have forgotten the setup.

This raises a question: For anyone who's recently lost a loved one, would it be worse to watch a faithful reenactment of the tragedy -- or to see it turned into an engrossing whodunit?

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