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Teen Dies in Car Crash


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Sorry that I can't cite my sources, but I couldn't find this story on the net. It was over my local radio station.


This crash in itself isn't weird. The weird part is that one teen survived. They took her to the hospital. They got her parents in to watch her and told the other teen's parents that their daughter died. The hospitalized teen wakes up. They start calling her name (let's say it's Jane).


Said teen, "Jane," starts saying that her name is Kate. It turns out that the two teens in the crash look very similar, though they aren't related. The real daughter of the family in the hospital died and they were sitting there waiting for the other to wake up. The "dead" teen's family was mourning for her while, unknown to them, she was in the hospital.


Names have been changed.

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I heard about that. They were college students.


On the daily feed on these forums:

[VIDEO]Tragic ID mix-up in deadly road crash


Families stunned by ID mix-up tragedy

Family tends to comatose woman, then learns their real daughter is dead


Updated: 10:32 a.m. ET June 1, 2006


INDIANAPOLIS - Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn looked remarkably alike, both attractive young women with blond hair, similar facial features and the same build and height.


They were together the night of April 26, returning from banquet preparations with a group from Taylor University, when a tractor-trailer slammed into their university van, peeling off the side and killing five people.


Cerak’s family was told their 18-year-old was among the dead. VanRyn’s parents were told their 22-year-old daughter was alive but seriously injured and in a coma.


The VanRyns kept vigil at the young woman’s bedside for weeks, but as she gained consciousness, she began saying things that didn’t make sense. This week, they made a stunning discovery: The recovering patient wasn’t their daughter at all, she was Whitney Cerak.


“I still can’t get over it,” said Cerak’s grandfather Emil Frank.


VanRyn’s parents, who had kept a daily Web log of the young woman’s recovery after the crash, disclosed the mix-up on their blog.


“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,” the family wrote.


Coroner: Students had ID'd

Cerak’s face was swollen after the crash, she was in a neck brace, and she had brain damage, broken bones and bruises. The Grant County, Ind., coroner said that the accident scene had been strewn with purses, and that students had identified the survivor as VanRyn. No scientific testing was conducted to verify the identities.


“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,” said Coroner Ron Mowery. “This tragedy unfolded like we could never have imagined.”


In Cerak’s hometown of Gaylord, in northern Michigan, her family held a closed-casket funeral that drew 1,400 people.


VanRyn’s family, meanwhile, detailed the many small steps they believed their daughter was making toward recovery at a rehabilitation center in Grand Rapids: feeding herself applesauce, playing Connect Four with a therapist.


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.”


Dental records confirm ID

When relatives took their concerns about the young woman’s comments to hospital officials, dental records confirmed the injured woman was actually Cerak.


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


Officials at Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Ind., about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis, confirmed the case of mistaken identity.


“Certainly there are those people that are devastated today because the person, their friend, who they thought had lots of hope and was progressing every day, they now found out she has died,” Taylor student body president Brent Maher told CNN Thursday. “There are also those who are rejoicing because Whitney is alive.”


Word of the mix-up also circulated at Gaylord High School, said Cerak’s volleyball coach, Jen Mazza.


“I don’t know what to feel right now. You’re elated but you almost don’t want to trust it,” Mazza said. “Right now we just want to get her home and see her for ourselves. ... Everyone who was touched and grieving for Whitney will be grieving for the other family. We’ve been there.”


Funeral for wrong woman

Joe Sereno, associate pastor at Gaylord Evangelical Free Church, said what had been thought to have been Cerak’s casket had been 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.”


Telephone messages were left Wednesday for the VanRyns and Ceraks. A young man outside the VanRyns’ home declined a reporter’s requests for comment.


On Wednesday evening, a steady stream of cars came and went from the VanRyns’ house in Caledonia, a village about 20 miles southeast of Grand Rapids. A memorial service for VanRyn is scheduled Sunday near Grand Rapids.




• Tragic ID mix-up in deadly road crash

June 1: In a tragic mix-up, one family is incorrectly told their daughter had died and another is erroneously informed their daughter is in a coma following a traffic accident. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

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Crash victims' identities mixed up

June 1, 2006, 12:08 PM


Grand Rapids, MI - In a stunning case of mistaken identity, a young woman once thought killed five weeks ago in the Taylor University van crash is alive in a Michigan Hospital.


Four Taylor University students and one staff member died in the April 26th crash on Interstate 69. Ever since that time, officials at Taylor University believed that one of the dead was 18-year-old student, Whitney Cerak.


But Wednesday, those officials confirmed that Cerak is alive and has been in a Michigan hospital recovering from very serious injuries. She had been mistaken for 22-year-old Laura VanRyn.



Whitney Cerak


Laura VanRyn


Whitney Cerak's grave marker

Grant County Coroner Ron Mowery also confirmed the mix-up, and told the media Wednesday night that a deputy coroner and chaplain drove to Michigan to inform Cerek's parents of the identity confusion in person.


Mowery said the women were identified by a combination of "the protocol of the Grant County Coroner's office, with the assistance of law enforcement, EMS personnel, other victims of the accident, as well as some members of the Taylor staff."


Mowery described how Cerak's body was transported to a Ft. Wayne hospital accompanied by VanRyn's ID. It was there, according to Mowery, where VanRyn's parents "made visual identification of (Cerak) as their daughter."


"We trusted the same processes and policies as we always do," he said.


Mowery said VanRyn's body, with Cerak's ID, was identified as Cerak by his office and Taylor University personnel. Nobody from Cerak's family, according to Mowery, made a positive identification.


In apologizing for the mix-up, Mowery said, "Ordinary procedures did not fit the extraordinary incidents" surrounding the accident.


VanRyn's remains were mistakenly identified as those of Whitney Cerak. The Cerak family buried VanRyn in Gaylord, Michigan several weeks ago, in a closed casket, according to Mowery.


The VanRyn family has been at the bedside of Whitney for the past five weeks, believing that she was their daughter. It was only this week, when Whitney emerged from a coma, that they began to have doubts about her identity.


The revelation is causing a wide range of emotions for all of the young women's families and friends. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the staff of the brain injury department at Spectrum Hospital said they'd had no reason to doubt Laura VanRyn's identity when she was admitted May 18th.


VanRyn had been identified near the crash scene near Taylor University, and she was accompanied by her family when she arrived in Grand Rapids. The crash victim had the blond hair, height and weight that corresponded with Laura VanRyn's description. As far as the hospital was concerned, she was Laura VanRyn. No one thought to check dental records until the young woman started waking up from her closed head injury. She started to say more things, and the things she said made the VanRyn family wonder.


"She was saying that her name was Whitney. Whitney had more moments of clarity as she was recovering from her traumatic brain injury. She had said a couple things that led them to believe that maybe this wasn't their daughter," said Bruce Rossman, Spectrum Hospital. "People have to keep in mind here that these two young women bore very striking similarities in their appearance, the same color hair, the same height, same body type, very similar facial features. It was understandable how this might have happened. But it happens so rarely and the fact that everybody's making such a big deal out of the story shows that it doesn't happen very often and do some sort of genetic testing to verify everybody that comes in your door when it's not necessary would not be a good use of resources."


The Cerak family drove from their home in Gaylord, Michigan to confirm the person in Grand Rapids was Whitney Cerak.


The VanRyn family is now planning a funeral for their daughter Laura. The Ceraks are arranging for continuing care for their daughter Whitney. The hospital also says the two families are very friendly and very supportive of one another.


The hospital said it notified the VanRyn family Tuesday night that it was not their daughter in the hospital. The Ceraks were notified Wednesday morning after additional dental records were checked. Mowery said VanRyn's boyfriend called attention to the situation as Cerak emerged from her coma.


Mowery said Cerak had already been transported to Ft. Wayne before coroner's personnel arrived at the crash scene the night of the accident. He said he could not identify who among the emergency personnel on the scene may have placed VanRyn's ID with Cerak's body when it was flown by helicopter to Ft. Wayne.


Mowery, a former law enforcement officer and mayor of Marion, said the two girls were very similar in appearance but their IDs were switched. "In hindsight...there are things we could have done," Mowery said. "At the time, it seemed that all of those procedures were followed." He also said officials in Grant County will now review their procedures and make recommendations make sure a similar mix-up does not happen again.


Also killed in the crash were students Elizabeth A. Smith, 22, from Mount Zion, Ill., Bradley J. Larson, 22, from Elm Grove, Wis., Laurel E. Erb, 20, from St. Charles, Ill., and university employee Monica Felver, 53, from Hartford City, Ind.


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


Services for VanRyn are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday in Grand Rapids at the Kentwood Community Church, 1200 60th St. SE.


VanRyn statement

The family of Laura VanRyn wrote about the mistaken identity on their website.


"What may come to us as a shock, does not shock the One who made us. We have some hard news to share with you today. 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....Over the past couple of days, as Whitney had been becoming more aware of her surroundings, she'd been saying and doing some things that made us question whether or not she was Laura. Yesterday, we talked with a Spectrum staff member and began the process of making a positive ID. We now know without a doubt, that this is Whitney," VanRyn's family wrote.


The VanRyn family said they met with the Ceraks, who are from Gaylord, Michigan, to discuss what steps would be taken. "We were also able to share with them some of the great things we have seen Whitney accomplish over the past month. It is a sorrow and a joy for us to learn of this turn of events. For us, we will mourn Laura's going home and will greatly miss her compassionate heart and sweetness while knowing that she is safe and with her King forever. We rejoice with the Ceraks, that they will have more time on this earth with their daughter, sister, and loved one," VanRyn's family said on their website.


"One can only imagine what impact this new development has had upon the VanRyn and Cerak families as they process this information. Taylor University is cooperating fully with the Coroner's Office," the university said in a statement. "We ask that prayers be offered for the VanRyn and Cerak families, and also for the families of Laurel Erb, Monica Felver, Brad Larson, Betsy Smith, as well as the Taylor Community including students, faculty, staff and administrators deeply affected by this development."

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