Steps to Recovery
Victim of mistaken ID in Taylor van crash walking again.
July 26, 2006
Nearly three months after the April 26 Taylor University van crash that took the lives of five staff members and students, Whitney Cerak, one of the accident’s four survivors, began walking on her own again.
“We were in tears when she stood up on both legs, took three steps forward, and looked at us with a huge smile and said, ‘Let’s take the stairs,'” Cerak’s father wrote in a blog the family set up to track her recovery.
Cerak had suffered a number of broken bones, along with head and facial injuries, in the accident. The injuries made it difficult to recognize her, which is part of the reason Cerak was misidentified as Laura VanRyn, one the students killed on the highway, for more than a month.
The women’s mistaken identities were traced to the accident scene, where VanRyn’s body had been tagged with Cerak’s name. Then, during a visit to the hospital to pray with grieving classmates, three Taylor administrators had confirmed the incorrect identification. It wasn’t until Cerak began to say and do things that didn’t make sense for VanRyn that her true identity was discovered.
“There have been many times in these past couple days where I’ve been mad at God, and I questioned how he could allow this to happen to me,” Aryn Linenger, VanRyn’s boyfriend, said at her June 4 memorial service, according to a USA Today report. “Like it was the biggest trick he’d ever played on me in my life.”
Laura’s father, Don VanRyn, said in his tribute that people had suggested the family should sue, but he preferred to follow Jesus’ command to forgive. “He calls us to imitate him,” he said.
The university did receive at least one warning that the young woman in the hospital wasn’t VanRyn. On May 17, after visiting Cerak, VanRyn’s college roommate told a school administrator that she thought VanRyn had been misidentified. The school’s security chief made inquiries of state and local officials and requested files from the prosecutor’s office, but took the matter no further.
In retrospect, Taylor spokesman Jim Garringer said, the university could have handled the situation differently. “[But] how do you respond to something like that? In the family’s mind there was no question, and so in our mind there was no question.”