Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope
|Author||Don and Susie Van Ryn; Newell, Colleen and Whitney Cerak; and Mark Tabb|
|Publication date||March 28, 2008|
|Dewey Decimal||617.4/810440922 B 22|
|LC Classification||RC1045.P78 M57 2008|
Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope is a best-selling non-fiction book describing a case where the identities of two young women were confused after a car crash. It was published by Howard Books on March 25, 2008. The book lists its authors as Don and Susie Van Ryn; Newell, Colleen and Whitney Cerak; and Mark Tabb. Don and Susie Van Ryn are the parents of Laura Van Ryn, the girl initially believed to be alive who was actually dead. Newell and Colleen are the parents of Whitney Cerak, the crash survivor who was believed to be dead. Mark Tabb is a former pastor whom The New York Times described as "the go-to guy when a collaborator is needed on books with spiritual themes."
The discovery of the mixup after the crash received international attention. The book's release also received great media attention. The book was the subject of a two-hour special on Dateline NBC, another hour on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also featured on the Today Show. The book was #1 for two weeks on the adult non-fiction New York Times Best Seller list in 2008.
The case of mistaken identity made national and international headlines and prompted proposed legislation in the states of Michigan and Indiana concerning stricter guidelines in the identification of bodies by coroners.
On April 26, 2006, a Taylor University van carrying nine students and staff members collided with a tractor-trailer being driven by Robert F. Spencer on Interstate 69 in Indiana.  Five people riding in the van died in the crash. Elizabeth Smith, Laurel Erb, Bradley Larson, and Monica Felver were killed in the crash, as was a young blonde woman the coroner identified as Whitney Cerak. A similar looking woman who was in a coma was identified as Laura Van Ryn. The Van Ryn family cared for the woman they believed to be their daughter by keeping a bedside vigil for several weeks. However, five weeks after the crash it was discovered that the surviving woman was not Laura Van Ryn, but instead Whitney Cerak.
Due to the severity of the injuries which included severe head trauma as well as some physical similarities between the two women, Cerak was taken care of by the Van Ryn family in the belief that she was their daughter. Meanwhile, Van Ryn was buried in a grave with Cerak's name on it, and 1400 people attended the funeral. More than five weeks passed before the mistake was realized. Suspicions were only aroused when during her gradual recovery in the hospital, she started making strange comments and using names incorrectly; a university roommate also reported that she did not appear to be Van Ryn. Weeks after the accident, when concerned hospital staff asked her her name, she wrote 'Whitney Cerak', which was confirmed by dental records. The tragic mix-up appeared to have been caused by Cerak's and Van Ryn's somewhat similar appearance, and confusion at the crash scene.
During the Dateline interview, the Van Ryns revealed that they had suspected that the patient in the hospital was not their daughter for several days prior to informing officials. Soon after the accident, the Van Ryns noticed several key indicators that Whitney was not Laura, such as discovering the difference in Cerak's teeth and navel piercing (which Van Ryn did not have), and Cerak later stating that her name was Whitney, not Laura, after coming out of her coma. The Van Ryns revealed that family friends eventually had expressed concerns that the woman they were caring for was not their daughter. Don Van Ryn also revealed that Cerak had accused them of being "false parents." Finally, when Cerak told Laura's sister the name of her parents, Newell and Colleen, the Van Ryns notified officials of the tragic mistake – more than a month after the accident. The Van Ryns explained their actions by stating that they were convinced by medical personnel that Cerak was their daughter and that emotional distress kept them from realizing the truth.
- "Alone"—an episode from the television show House that features a similar theme
- "And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael"—an episode from the television show CSI: NY that features a similar mistaken identity theme
- "Whitney Cerak, crash survivor in ID mix-up, writes book". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- Garner, Dwight (13 April 2008). "Inside the List". The New York Times. p. 26. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
- Families speak about switched identity ordeal. MSNBC. By Mike Celizic. March 27, 2008.
- Taylor 'Mistaken Identity' case relived in book. WBBM Newsradio 780. March 28, 2008.
- "Mistaken identity has family keeping vigil over wrong woman". CBC News. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- "Coma woman mix-up pains US family". BBC News. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- "Summer Study Committee Presents Ideas for Laws". Indiana House Republicans. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- "State Representative tries to prevent future identity mix-ups". WZZM13 NEWS. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- "Case of mistaken identity stuns families". USA Today - Theodore Kim. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Crash survivor is mistaken for dead victim - and cared for by the wrong family. The Daily Mail. March 27, 2008.
- 'Mistaken Identity: Two Families One Survivor, Unwavering Hope' Gaylord Herald Times. March 1, 2008.
- Kim, Theodore (2006-06-01). "Mistaken ID stuns family". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
- In Loving Memory – Taylor University
- Celizic, Mike. (2008-03-27) Victim of mistaken identity draws faith from it – TODAY: People – MSNBC.com. MSNBC. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
by David Sheff
|#1 New York Times Best Seller Non-Fiction
April 13, 2008 - April 20, 2008
by Julie Andrews