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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Deadly Mistaken Identity

Author: Mark Dixon
Saturday, June 3, 2006
12:54 pm

The recently reported case of mistaken Identity — where Whitney lingered in a coma after a traffic accident in which her friend Laura died, but the authorities mixed up their identities — is one of the most bizarre, disturbing stories I’ve read in a long time.

It must have been heart-wrenching for both families to learn of the mixup – in different ways. After going through the trauma of burying their daughter and agonizing her loss, the Cerak family must have been elated to learn that their daughter was really alive. The VanRyn family must have been devastated to learn, after five months of patient hope, that their daughter had died in the crash.

Ironically, while searching for an online version of this story, I came across a four year old story that was remarkably similar, but didn’t last as long:

“For three days after the accident, authorities thought the boy fighting for his life in a Louisville hospital bed was Jeremy, 15, and the teen-ager killed in the crash was John, 16.

“But moments after a funeral on Saturday for the boy identified as John, the truth came out. John Grubs was still alive. Jeremy was the teen in the casket.”

I can understand how these mixups could occur without adequate scientific testing. Many years ago, I visited a friend in the hospital ICU a short time after he was involved in a head-on collision. His face was badly lacerated and his head was swollen like a balloon. I wouldn’t have known he was Reggie unless I had been told. I’m sure that those who attended to Laura and Whitney and John and Jeremy also were fooled by what they could see. Sometimes we just can’t depend on purely visual inspection.

By the way, the Detroit Free Press reports that the coroner responsible for the misidentification is stepping down from his post. His life was also devastated by the experience. My heart goes out to all involved.

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