[r52] Four Years Later: Updates on the mistaken identity case involving two Taylor University students (4/26/2010)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Start Date: 4/26/2010 All Day
End Date: 4/26/2010
Dear Friends,

You may remember hearing a few years ago about a horrific accident involving several students from Taylor University in Upland in which a truck accident resulted in a case of mistaken identity.

On the evening of April 26, 2006, a truck driver who had been driving long past the number of hours allotted by federal law drifted across the median of I-69 and into oncoming traffic. He struck a van carrying five students and three Taylor staff members, sending the van into a tailspin and ejecting passengers across the highway. Two of the victims, Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn, were misidentified in the chaos, and it was believed that Whitney had died. National press descended on the campus five weeks later when it was discovered that Whitney, not Laura, had been slowly recovering in the hospital.

The accident touched many lives- here in Indiana, but also all over the country. This week marks the four year anniversary of that accident, so I'd like to give you an update on the school, the survivors and some of the redemption that has occurred after the tragedy.

  • Whitney Cerak, the surviving student who had been misidentified, returned to Taylor and graduated in May 2009. Together, the Cerak and Van Ryn families wrote a book chronicling the experience entitled Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.
  • Taylor University constructed a 75-seat Memorial Prayer Chapel in the middle of campus honoring the lives of Taylor students Laurel Erb, Brad Larson, Betsy Smith and Laura Van Ryn, and Creative Dining Services staff member Monica Felver.  Complete with prayer alcoves, atrium, gardens, fountains and memorial plaques, the Chapel was named the winner of the 2009 BCA Excellence in Construction Award, presented by the Building Contractors Association of Northeast Indiana.
  • The Michigan truck driver involved in the accident spent two years behind bars. According to news reports, "Jay Circuit Judge Brian Hutchison could have sentenced Spencer to as long as 24 years in prison under a deal with prosecutors, but he noted Spencer's remorse and cooperation."
  • The truck involved in the crash may soon be destroyed. According to a recent AP bulletin, "Since the crash, the tractor-trailer has been at Harner's Service Center in Jonesboro. Owner Myron Harner says he should get the title to the truck soon and plans to take it to a salvage yard to be destroyed."
  • The Indiana legislature responded to the accident by passing a bill containing stricter coroner training laws. The bill prohibits disturbing a body, any evidence, and the scene of death until the coroner has photographed the body and law enforcement and the coroner have finished their investigation, and requires the coroner to positively identify a dead person by a specified method. 

Please visit  http://www.taylor.edu/community/news/05_06/memorial.shtml for a complete listing of press relating to the incident, or to make a donation in honor of the victims, and please keep their families and Taylor University in your thoughts and prayers.


Dave Yarde