Family of Crash Survivor Mistakenly Identified Files Lawsuit

Relatives of a university student misidentified as a classmate who was killed in highway accident have told officials they plan to sue over handling of the crash.

The so-called tort claim on behalf of survivor Whitney Cerak, her parents and sister targets the actions of Grant County Coroner Ron Mowery in identifying four Taylor University students and one employee who were killed in the April 26 crash.

Grant County officials on Monday received the tort claim, a legal step required under state law before a government agency can be sued. The claim argues Mowery was "not properly trained and educated" as a coroner and that he "failed to exercise reasonable care" to avoid the misidentification.

The claim seeks unspecified damages for emotional trauma.

The crash drew national attention when it came to light that authorities had mixed up the identifications of 19-year-old Whitney Cerak of Gaylord, Mich., who was severely injured but survived, and 22-year-old Laura VanRyn of Caledonia, Mich., who died in the crash.

VanRyn and Cerak bore a striking resemblance to each other. They were in a van that was struck by a tractor-trailer rig on Interstate 69 about 10 miles north of the Taylor University campus where they were students in Upland, Ind.

Their families were told Cerak was dead and VanRyn was alive but seriously injured and in a coma.

VanRyn's family spent weeks at the injured woman's bedside, not realizing the mistaken identity until after Cerak regained consciousness. Cerak's face was swollen because of broken bones, cuts and scrapes.

Truck driver Robert T. Spencer, 37, of Canton Township, Mich., near Detroit, was arrested in September and charged with five counts of reckless homicide for the crash.