(July 25) — For the last week, the family and friends of 19-year-old Abby Guerra, who officials said died in a July 18 car crash, have been mourning. Saturday, the promising young soccer star from Glendale, Ariz., was discovered to be in the hospital, alive.
Authorities had confused Guerra with 21-year-old Marlena Cantu, another passenger in the vehicle who was thought to have survived the crash with severe injuries but in fact was killed. Cantu’s family have sat at Guerra’s bedside for the past week, believing she was Marlena, and now are left with the cruel revelation that their loved one actually died in the crash.
The two women were traveling home from a day out at Disneyland in Southern California with three former high school friends when the left-rear tire of their SUV blew out, causing the vehicle to flip.
Guerra’s parents were told that their daughter, who had just finished her freshman year at the University of Evansville in Indiana on a soccer scholarship, had died at the scene. Fellow passenger Tyler Parker, 20, was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. He died the following day. The two other passengers, one of whom officials falsely identified as Cantu, were also taken to the hospital and treated for severe head trauma.
Officials announced that Guerra had died before the medical examiner’s office compared the teen’s body with her medical records. That vital process didn’t take place until a week after the crash, a delay the hospital blamed on a shortage of doctors and high patient numbers.
The Guerra family was in the final stages of organizing their daughter’s funeral when they learned of the mistake. “I mean, you’re ecstatic for one — I mean, it’s a miracle — but in the same you feel angry, because we mourned all week,” Guerra’s aunt Dorenda Cisneros told KPHO.com. Her niece is currently in critical condition with a brain injury, collapsed lung and broken back.
“It’s a bad dream, and hopefully it’s gonna have a great happy ending. That’s what we’re praying for so,” Cisneros added.
But for the family of Cantu, the situation must feel more like a nightmare.
“Every day they went [to the hospital] having hope that she’s living one more day, then to find out it’s not her,” Colleen Donovan, a childhood friend of Cantu, told the Arizona Republic. “And Abby’s parents, too. They’ve gone through all these emotions, and now they find out she’s really alive. Abby still has a struggle to survive.”
Donovan explained that Guerra’s facial injuries were so severe, that it was almost impossible to tell who she was. “It didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen,” said Donovan. The head of the girl in the hospital bed had been shaved ahead of brain surgery, she noted, and her face was completely swollen and eyes blackened.
But a few key differences would have revealed the girl’s true identity if a more detailed examination had been carried out earlier. Donovan said that Cantu had a large scar on her stomach where her appendix had been removed, had fewer ear piercings than Guerra and was also a several inches taller. Cantu also had wisdom teeth, while Guerra didn’t.
Fox News’s Phoenix station reported that neither the local medical examiner’s office, the state’s Department of Public Safety nor St. Joseph’s hospital has yet put out a statement explaining how the misidentification occurred.
Guerra’s aunt says that she will now campaign for reform to ensure that this kind of heartbreaking mistake is never repeated. “We just want it [change] to happen,” Cisneros said, “so families don’t have to go through this.”
A similar mix-up occurred in 2006 when five people died after a school van from Taylor University in Indiana collided with a tractor-trailer. While in a near-comatose state, 19-year-old Whitney Cerak was wrongly identified as among those who had died, while one of the students who perished, Laura VanRyn, was declared a survivor, The Associated Press reported at the time.