Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn looked alike. Both were blond, about the same height, and build. Both were friends at Taylor University in Indiana. Both were in a car accident while riding back from setting up for a banquet.
18-year-old Whitney from Gaylord was pronounced dead. 22-year-old Cerak from Caledonia near Grand Rapids was thought to be in a coma. Five weeks later, as the girl everyone thought was Cerak recovered, a terrible mistake was discovered. The girls had been misidentified. Laura had died. Whitney was recovering.
While shocking, this isn't an isolated incident. A similar situation came up in Lansing back in 2001. Two 13-year-old boys were killed by a drunk driver and misidentified. One boy was buried in the other's cemetery plot. The other was mistakenly cremated.
Ingham County Medical Examiner Dr. Dean Sienko says families need to be suspicious in multi-person accidents to prevent this. Meanwhile an Indiana coroner has apologized for the tragic mix-up. Both families say they understand how it happened and are praying their way through it.