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Mistaken identity-how horrible is this!!?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I just cant even imagine being either one of these girls family members.

Mistaken ID Stuns Crash Victims' Families
By JAMES PRICHARD, Associated Press Writer
1 hour ago

CALEDONIA, Mich. - A couple sat by their daughter's hospital bedside for weeks after an auto accident until she came out of a coma and they realized she was not their daughter after all, but another blond-haired young woman injured in the wreck. Their own daughter, it turned out, was dead and buried.

In a tragic mix-up, one family had been incorrectly told their daughter had died in the April 26 crash in Indiana, and another was erroneously informed their daughter was in a coma.

The two young women _ both students at Indiana's Taylor University _ looked remarkably alike, and the one in a coma suffered facial swelling, broken bones and cuts and bruises, and was in a neck brace.

The family of Laura VanRyn, 22, disclosed the mix-up Wednesday on a Web log that they had used to record detailed updates on the young woman's recovery.

"Our hearts are aching as we have learned that the young woman we have been taking care of over the past five weeks has not been our dear Laura, but instead a fellow Taylor student of hers, Whitney Cerak," the VanRyns said on the blog.

Cerak's grandfather, Emil Frank, said news of his granddaughter's survival was a shock. "I still can't get over it. It's like a fairy tale," he said.

Coroner Ron Mowery, whose office handled the case, apologized for the mistake. He said acquaintances of the students had identified the survivor as VanRyn, but no scientific tests were conducted to verify the IDs.

"This tragedy unfolded like we could never have imagined," he said.

The VanRyns said that as the young woman began regaining consciousness at a rehabilitation center in Grand Rapids, Mich., she said things that made them question her identity.

As recently as Monday, the VanRyns reported: "While certain things seem to be coming back to her, she still has times where she'll say things that don't make much sense."

The coroner said that VanRyn's boyfriend raised initial questions about her identity. Then her father became suspicious when she referred to him by a pet name he didn't recognize.

"He started asking questions and the process evolved to where she actually came to and suggested who she was and wrote her name," Mowery said.

In a statement, the two families said they took their concerns to hospital officials, and dental records confirmed that the injured woman was Whitney Cerak.

"Both families understand how this could have happened," said Bruce Rossman, a spokesman for Spectrum Health, which operated the rehab center.

Frank, a retired minister in Portland, Maine, said his granddaughter's parents declined to look at the body before the funeral. "They wanted to remember her the way she was," he said.

An official at Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Ind., about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis, said the Grant County coroner had notified the school of the error.

"We rejoice with the Ceraks. We grieve with the VanRyns," said Taylor spokesman Jim Garringer.

The VanRyns, who are from Caledonia, Mich., said their daughter and Cerak, 18, of Gaylord, Mich., bore an "uncanny resemblance."

The coroner described an accident scene strewn with purses and wallets.

"I can't stress enough that we did everything we knew to do under those circumstances, and trusted the same processes and the same policies that we always do," Mowery said.

Four Taylor students and an employee were killed when their van was struck by a tractor-trailer that had drifted across a highway median. Those in the van worked for Taylor's dining services and were preparing for a banquet for the inauguration of a new president of the 1,850-student school.

Most of the crash victims had funerals with closed caskets. A month ago, an overflow crowd of more than 1,400 people turned out for what they thought was Cerak's funeral in Gaylord, Mich.

Joe Sereno, associate pastor at Gaylord Evangelical Free Church, said the casket was closed both for visitation and for the funeral.

"We did everything you usually do," Sereno said. "We had a memorial service at the church. The family did a private burial the next day. Everybody thought it was Whitney."

The VanRyn family used the blog to provide progress reports on the young woman, reporting, example, that her hair was in pigtails or braids, that she managed to feed herself some applesauce, that she played a game of "Connect Four" with one of the therapists and did quite well, and that she performed an exercise in which her therapist gave her a word and she had to supply the word's opposite.

Calls to the VanRyns and Ceraks were not immediately returned, and a young man outside the VanRyns' home declined to comment to a reporter. An attorney for 'the Cerak family did not return a call either.

Prosecutors are weighing criminal charges against the truck driver, saying he may having fallen asleep at the wheel.

A memorial service for VanRyn is scheduled Sunday in Grand Rapids.
post #2 of 19
Those poor families!
post #3 of 19
I saw this on tv.......how tragic for one family and what wonderful news for another.............
post #4 of 19
My husband just told me about this news story (he is on a car forum and they were talking about it there) and i just don't understand how they can confuse two different young women?

But it must be awful for both families...spend months thinking your daughter is dead and she's not....and then thinking your daughter is alive but isn't.

Awful.
post #5 of 19
Well I teach college kids. When two girls are very close together they start dressing similarly, using the same makeup....etc. etc. and some of my students literally look like twins.

That is a very, very expensive mistake. Even a simple headstone costs so much nowadays.
post #6 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by ButterflyDreame
My husband just told me about this news story (he is on a car forum and they were talking about it there) and i just don't understand how they can confuse two different young women?

But it must be awful for both families...spend months thinking your daughter is dead and she's not....and then thinking your daughter is alive but isn't.

Awful.
If you saw picture of them, you would see that they were very similar in features; same height, build. The accident caused a lot of trauma with swelling and someone on the scene did identification.

The whole accident was a tragedy.
post #7 of 19
It is like the mix up of the two babies long ago, where one died and HER parents raised the other parents child. THaT turned out very badly for all!
post #8 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by katachtig
If you saw picture of them, you would see that they were very similar in features; same height, build. The accident caused a lot of trauma with swelling and someone on the scene did identification.

The whole accident was a tragedy.
Thank you for posting that pic-I didnt have one to post.
post #9 of 19
Thats so horrible the poor traumatised family!
post #10 of 19
Oh my goodness, I cannot even imagine having to go thru that - my prayers are going out to both families!
post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by MyBabies
It is like the mix up of the two babies long ago, where one died and HER parents raised the other parents child. THaT turned out very badly for all!
What happened exactly?
post #12 of 19
That was horrible. There are crosses on the side of 69 where the accident happened. Every time I pass it I tear up. I can't even believe that trucker was able to make it all the way across the highway into the southbound lane. There is a lot of grass, not to mention the bumpy part of the road he would have passed over twice. According to some of the guys on the scene the trauma was so severe for the passengers that telling them apart would have been pretty much impossible without some DNA or dental records. These kids were horribly injured. It would be so hard to be the family that kept visiting this girl, not knowing she wasn't even their daugther. I'm sure the family of the surviving girl are counting their blessings. I can't imagine burying my own child.
post #13 of 19
I heard the story briefly on TV this morning. The girls do look a lot alike...but it seems like there would have been a freckle or some kind of marking that would have let the family know it was not their daughter they were visiting for 5 weeks!

The heartache must be awful on both sides. Already having buried "your" daughter, and mourned her. Sure it is great to learn she is alive, but her friend is not, and she is so injured. What an emotional rollercoaster.
post #14 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beckiboo
The girls do look a lot alike...but it seems like there would have been a freckle or some kind of marking that would have let the family know it was not their daughter they were visiting for 5 weeks!
Exactly what I was thinking when I saw this on TV. I mean, I know there was swelling, bruising, etc. but after 5 weeks I would think enough of this trauma would be gone to notice the girl was not who they thought. What an awful feeling for both families, b/c even though the living girls family found out she was alive, imagine thinking that she had been alive for 5 weeks and they hadn't been able to visit her once. I can't even imagine.
post #15 of 19
This has been all over the news here in Michigan...I didn't realise that it went national.

The coroner did admit yesterday that he did make the mistake and he should have compared dental records before announcing who was who.
post #16 of 19
I would think that if the parents didn't want to identify their daughters body, that they would have to do a DNA test or dental records or something to positivley ID her, before releasing her body for burial.

Also, the only thing I can think of about the family not knowing the surviving girl, I think it said she was in a coma, and her facial bones were broken. So she was probably wrapped with head bandages, it also said a neck brace. According to the msnbc article, the kids were severly injured well beyond recognition. So maybe if she was wrapped up they wouldn't have seen any birth marks or freckles. She was probably so disoriented and the family was just thanking their lucky stars every day that she was alive....

So sad for the family that has now lost their daughter.
post #17 of 19
I read this story on MSNBC yesterday. It is a horrific story. I don't know how you cope with that. Five weeks their daighter has been dead and they don't even know it. My prayers are with both families at this time as well as the families to the others that died.
post #18 of 19
This would be so awful for one family, and a miracle for the other. That is a horrible thing to mixup. I find it hard to beleive that noone noticed this..its so weird.
post #19 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyGirl
I would think that if the parents didn't want to identify their daughters body, that they would have to do a DNA test or dental records or something to positivley ID her, before releasing her body for burial.
The point is the parents did indentify the body. Friends also indentified the body. Parents and friends indentified the surviving girl. People are trying to pin this on the coroner because people (and I'm not talking about people on this board, I'm talking about commentators I've seen on TV) have this weird CSI mentality that dental records and DNA should always be used. These girls were identified by so many people, people who knew them their entire lives. The coroner doesn't know these girls, he will go based on what the families and friends tell him. The national news is so annoying on this. Talking about it as if it was just an accident, not describing the seriousness of what happened (ie, getting plowed into by a semi-truck on 69, where the speed limit is 70), the horrible injuries, mispronouncing the names, blaming the coroner, etc.
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