Monday, July 26, 2010

Tragedy Upon Tragedy as Car Crash Victims Identities Accidentally Swapped

Abby Guerra, 19, and Marlena Cantu, 21, along with three of their high school friends, were returning to Arizona from Disneyland on July 18 when the SUV they were riding in blew a tire, lost control and rolled over several times.  Reports on that day said that Guerra was killed at the scene and Cantu was in critical condition.  Another friend died at the hospital, and the remaining two were severely injured.  This, by itself, would be an awful situation.

Guerra's autopsy was a relatively low priority, and the county coroner was very busy, so it was scheduled for Friday, July 23.  On Saturday, July 24, her dental records were compared and the startling discovery was made that the body in the Maricopa County morgue was not Abby Guerra.  It was Marlena Cantu.  Abby was in critical condition in the hospital with Marlena's family surrounding her.  Abby's family was planning her funeral, but she wasn't dead.

This sort of thing should not happen, and for the most part it doesn't.  There was a similar case in Indiana in 2006, but such mix-ups are, as they should be, the exception.  This is the cruelest kind of mistake.

When someone we love is suddenly killed or seriously injured, the situation feels surreal.  The most typical reaction to the news is, "This can't be true."  Many people actually say those exact words, sometimes over and over and over.  In this incident, it actually wasn't true.  Guerra's family spent a week trying to grasp the reality of the situation, only to discover that they were, basically, right in the first place -- this wasn't real.  Cantu's family, has the awful reverse -- having spent the week very worried but grateful she was alive, they have found out that she isn't. 

The worst of it, for Marlena Cantu's family, is not just that she is dead.  That by itself would be bad enough, and by itself would cause them to say "this can't be true."  But, on top of that, they have a very real reason to believe that it might not be true.  After all, if Guerra can be thought dead and actually be alive, why can't Cantu?  And while you and I, looking from the outside in, may know that's not going to happen, and while the Cantus may know it on some level as well, one can hardly blame them if they have trouble accepting it.

Aside from disbelief, I would expect the Cantus to also be experiencing some anger.  First of all, for obvious reasons, they are probably mad at emergency personnel, medical personnel and the medical examiner for getting this wrong in the first place.  It would be understandable as well if they were mad at the Guerras on some level.  This is a zero sum game -- one woman is dead and one is alive -- and so, on some level, the fact that Guerra is alive appears to cause Cantu's death.  That isn't a rational statement, but people who have just suddenly lost a loved one are not in a particularly rational place.  If they're like a lot of people, they're mad, they know they shouldn't be mad, and they're mad at themselves for being mad.  That doesn't help much, but it's hard to avoid.

My heart certainly aches for both of these families, for the mix up, for the accident, for the struggle Abby Guerra is now engaged in for her survival, and for the emotional roller coaster they will be on for a long, long time.


Colleen said...

I don't like to think about it....but if the *family* couldn't tell they had the wrong Just horrible. The mixup is very understandable....for an outsider.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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