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savafan
06-01-2006, 10:16 AM
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060531/ap_on_re_us/mixed_up_victims



By ASHLEY M. HEHER, Associated Press Writer Wed May 31, 7:10 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS - 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.

The family 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."

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.

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.

It was not clear who mistakenly identified the victims or how the error happened. The coroner's office did not immediately return a call. But the VanRyns, who are from Caledonia, Mich., said their daughter and Cerak, 18, of Gaylord, Mich., bore an "uncanny resemblance."

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. 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.

___

KronoRed
06-01-2006, 04:12 PM
That's horrifying :(

Donder
06-01-2006, 04:47 PM
I'm a graduate of Taylor and this accident happened about five miles from my house. Now that the students are all out of school it seems like people were just beginning to move on, so obviously this has re-opened a lot of wounds. There's a lot of talk about just how this could have happened. Not being able to properly bury their own daughter must be absolutely devistating.

IslandRed
06-01-2006, 05:56 PM
From the article I read (not exactly the same as linked above), the initial misidentification was from the two girls' friends at the scene. Because they were so similar-looking and the injuries were severe -- and they were heading to work at a banquet, so they were probably dressed identically -- that was plausible. After that, because the one girl was in a coma with facial injuries, and the parents of the girl that supposedly died didn't go through with the identification, it was not caught. If Whitney had died instead of coming out of her coma, it may never have been discovered. Thank goodness it was, but I can't imagine how Laura's parents must feel.

cumberlandreds
06-02-2006, 08:00 AM
Shouldn't the coroner of that county be responsible for a positive Identification? When I read this I could only imagine the swing of emotions of the two families. Very sad thing to happen.

StillFunkyB
06-04-2006, 10:24 AM
I'm a graduate of Taylor and this accident happened about five miles from my house. Now that the students are all out of school it seems like people were just beginning to move on, so obviously this has re-opened a lot of wounds. There's a lot of talk about just how this could have happened. Not being able to properly bury their own daughter must be absolutely devistating.

I live in Marion. I was not home when the accident happened, but my sister who works at IWU told me about it when I came home the following week. Taylor and IWU have a pretty big rivalry, but when things like this happen all that goes out the window.

I really don't know what to say about this situation, it's just completely mind boggling. Something that would only happen in a movie, you would think.

kearns and dunn
06-09-2006, 07:26 PM
My choir teacher has 2 kids that both go to Taylor and that basically everybody was/is shocked and yeah. Our school also had something like this happen a couple years ago(2 or 3) where 3 kids and a teacher died in a wreck during drivers ed. It's really sad and what these kids at Taylor along with the families are going through is horrible. Wouldn't wish it on anybody.

cumberlandreds
08-14-2006, 02:18 PM
Here's a follow up on the survivor that was initially misidentified.

http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=104&sid=807536