Published August 09, 2011
PHOENIX – A Glendale family has filed a lawsuit against the state following an identity mix-up that led them to believe their daughter had died in car crash last summer west of Phoenix when she was actually alive.
In the lawsuit, Sergio and Maria Guerra claim the state Department of Public Safety failed to follow protocols when officers said their daughter, 20-year-old Abby Guerra, died in a crash last July as she returned home after a weekend trip to Disneyland.
The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/owLFnf ) six days after the Guerras were told their daughter had died, and funeral plans were being made, officers contacted the family again.
They said Abby's close friend, 21-year-old Marlena Cantu, was actually the one who was killed in the crash on Interstate 10 near Tonopah, while Abby was in critical condition at a Phoenix hospital.
Mick Levin, a Phoenix attorney representing the Guerras, said there are policies and procedures in place when the Department of Public Safety informs a family that a loved one has died.
"We believe (DPS) violated their own policies and procedures," Levin told The Associated Press Tuesday. "There's a handbook out there for DPS officers who are attempting to identify people involved in a serious accident or death situation, and we don't believe they followed those procedures."
The Department of Public Safety has not responded to inquiries from the Guerras, Levin said.
Capt. Steve Harrison, a department spokesman, told The Associated Press on Tuesday the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit names department director Robert Halliday, a department chaplain and four officers the family said failed to follow agency policies.
According to agency policy, officers must positively identify a deceased person before informing family members.
"If positive identification cannot be accomplished for any of several reasons, dental records, fingerprints, DNA samples or birth certificates may be of value. Alternatively, if positive identification is provided by a third party, all circumstances surrounding the identification should be documented," the department's policy states.
Irene Cantu, Marlena's mother, filed a notice of claim in January seeking $250,000 in damages. Her claim cited the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Public Safety and Maricopa County.