GAYLORD, Mich. – The body of a young woman who was laid to rest under a grave marker with someone else's name on it was exhumed Tuesday for another burial after a heartbreaking case of mistaken identity.
A city public works crew removed the casket holding the remains of Laura VanRyn from the Fairview Cemetery plot where the parents of Whitney Cerak had buried her, thinking the young woman was their daughter. Cerak actually had survived an April 26 van crash in Indiana that killed VanRyn and four others from Taylor University.
VanRyn, 22, will be given a private graveside service by her parents within a few days and will be reburied near relatives in Grand Rapids Township, about 180 miles away, funeral home owner Bob Zaagman said.
"This just helps, I think, bring closure to them, probably just a more comforting feeling knowing that her body is going to be near her grandparents, and she has a cousin that's buried there," he said.
VanRyn and Cerak, now 19, were in a van that collided with a tractor-trailer. The coroner's office mistakenly told the families of the two blond college students that Cerak was dead and VanRyn in a coma.
VanRyn's family stayed at Cerak's bedside for weeks, not realizing the young woman was not their daughter until after she regained consciousness. The mix-up was discovered last week.
"It's been a trying week," said Joe Duff, Gaylord city manager. "Now we can look forward to welcoming the Ceraks home."
Cerak, who suffered a brain injury and broken bones, cuts and scrapes that left her face swollen, is recovering at a rehabilitation center.
Newell Cerak, her father and pastor of young adults at Gaylord Evangelical Free Church, said the family was "overjoyed" at her progress.
"She has been increasing in endurance each moment, it seems — sitting up to eat her meals, feeding herself and cleaning the plate," Newell Cerak wrote Monday on a family-maintained Web log. "We are told that if she keeps this up, the tube they have been using to feed her will be removed soon. Praise God!
"She continues to ask when she (can) go home and when she can be rid of the neckbrace. She speaks sweetly in a soft voice asking of those she meets `Hi,' `How are you?' and `What have you been doing?'"