Archive for Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Crash survivor describes ID mix-up

August 15, 2006


— A woman wrongly identified as a college classmate killed in a traffic crash says it was "strange to find out my family and friends had a funeral for me."

Whitney Cerak, posting a message Saturday on her family's online journal,, described her experiences after reawakening from a near-comatose state and learning about the mix-up.

"It is so hard to believe that this story is all over the news and so many people know about me," Cerak wrote. "Even though I don't know many of you who are reading what I am writing about my life, I am so thankful to have had your prayers."

Cerak, 19, of Gaylord, was among nine people from Taylor University in Indiana riding in a school van that collided with a tractor-trailer April 26. Five people were killed in the accident, including Laura VanRyn, a 22-year-old Taylor senior.

VanRyn's mother and father mistakenly were told that she was alive, while Cerak's parents were told that their daughter was dead. Both had long blonde hair, similar body builds, and facial structure. VanRyn's family and boyfriend kept vigil at Cerak's bedside for five weeks before realizing the error.

Cerak said she doesn't recall anything over a five-week period following the crash.

"Some people came to visit me at the hospital, and a few of those were the VanRyns," Cerak wrote in Saturday's posting. "I know they were with me constantly during the first five weeks, but their visit was all I can remember. They are very nice people, and it was funny to hear how I acted when I first came out of my coma. When I found out that five other people were killed in the accident I was really sad."

Cerak, who is back home after recovering for months in the Grand Rapids area, said she is excited about resuming her education at Taylor in a few weeks and again living a normal life.


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