State Representative tries to prevent future identity mix-ups

7:41 PM, Jun 7, 2006   |    comments
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Grand Rapids - A Michigan legislator is now calling for a state law to prevent body misidentifications from happening again. Representative Michael Sak will propose legislation to use scientific means, to make sure any person killed in the state, or brought here would have to be identified by a medical examiner. Twice in two years now, the body of a person from the Grand Rapids area has been misidentified. That's two times; too many says a local lawmaker. And the aunt of one of the teens involved in the first case agrees. The horror of hearing about a deadly car accident is traumatic enough. But to be told your loved one is alive, then later informed their identity was confused, and they're actually dead, can be crippling. "First the loss of a life of someone so special, but to have the tragedy of misidentification was truly more than our family could ever express in words," says Maryann Prisichenko. She went through a range of emotions two years ago when her 16 year old nephew and godson, Nathan Smith, was killed in car crash near Traverse City. First, police said Nathan was alive, so Maryann drove to see him in the hospital. "We had some suspicions, he had an earring, different clothing, but the reaction was we were in denial," Prisichenko says. They weren't. The boy police said was Nathan Smith was actually Patrick Bement, his 17 year old friend. It wasn't until his visitation, that family called the sheriff's department, the body was fingerprinted, and the mistake resolved. Now it has happened again. "This makes me incredible angry because our hope was no family would never have to go through this again," she says. This time it's Laura VanRyn's family. She was killed in an April accident on an Indiana highway, but the coroner there misidentified her with fellow college student Whitney Cerak. Laura was buried as Whitney, and as Whitney recovered in a rehab center, Laura's family was by her side. It wasn't until Whitney regained consciousness and wrote her name that it was figured out. State Representative Michael Sak is proposing legislation to change the way medical examiners I.D. bodies. "I'm trying to be sensitive to the family, but something has to be done to make sure this doesn't happen again in Michigan," Sak says. Right now a 53 year old state law says, "The medical examiner shall ascertain the identity of the deceased." But it doesn't say how. In cases where there may be confusion, Sak wants M.E.'s to use DNA, fingerprints or dental records to make sure they get it right. Maryann Prisichenko agrees. "It has to stop, it should never happen again." The initial mistake in the VanRyn case was made by a medical examiner in Indiana. But Representative Sak says whether the person is killed in Michigan, or brought here makes no difference. He thinks either way if it's a confusing case, a medical examiner should use science to figure it out.

Keith Baldi

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