My sister knows a family whose daughter was involved in a deadly car crash in Northern Indiana a couple years ago. Five passengers in the van – Taylor University students – were instantly killed, and two survivors were taken to the hospital. In a strange case of mistaken identity, one of the dead students was identified by school officials as Whitney Cerak, age 18, and the survivor was identified as Laura Van Ryn.
As “Laura” lay in a coma for 5 weeks, family members missed the signs of mistaken identity. Her sister didn’t recognize the shoes or clothes officials said belonged to Laura, but dismissed it as a college student borrowing clothes from friends. Her brother thought her teeth looked different, but dismissed it as trauma from the accident. Her boyfriend thought her eye color was off.
It wasn’t until “Laura” came out of a coma and began mumbling strange names the family didn’t recognize, that they took their suspicions to the next level. A nurse asked “Laura” to write out her name, and she spelled W-H-I-T-N-E-Y.
As you can imagine, lots of confusing emotions around losing a daughter you thought was alive, and gaining a daughter you thought was dead. The two families wrote a book together, titled, Mistaken Identity, and will be appearing on Dateline this Friday, March 28th, and Oprah next Wednesday, April 1st.
Photo from the Dateline website.
Whitney Cerak, left; Laura Van Ryn, right.