Canada Coroner Misidentification Similar To Indiana Incident That Changed State Law

Apr 11, 2018

Taylor University photos of Whitney Cerak (left) and Laura Van Ryn (right), 10 years ago. (Archive Photos)

A small Canadian town reeling from a bus crash that killed many members of a local hockey team is now processing a coroner’s misidentification of who was dead and who was alive. Two families of Indiana college students know the same pain, after their loved ones were misidentified by a coroner in a similar 2006 crash. As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, Indiana now has a law in place that’s supposed to help prevent such mistakes.

Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume. In Canada, a bus carrying an ice hockey team collides with a truck, killing 15 people. Xavier Labelle is said to be dead and Parker Tobin, another blond man, is listed as alive. But a day later, the mistake is found and two families must share the news.

About a decade ago, the same was true in Indiana, after a Taylor University van crash that killed five people — four of them college students. Whitney Cerak was said to be dead and Laura Van Ryn, another blond woman, was listed as alive. The mistake wasn’t corrected for weeks, until Cerak came out of a coma at the hospital, where she was being watched over by Van Ryn’s parents.

“I think Laura’s purse was close to my body,” said the now-married Whitney Wheeler in 2016. “And so, like, I fit the description. Laura and I, she was a blond, like, the same height as me. We had the same, a lot of the same features.”

After the Taylor University crash misidentification became national news, Indiana lawmakers passed a law requiring elected coroners to take a 40-hour training course and become certified. If that training is not taken or failed, communities are supposed to withhold a coroner’s paycheck.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana does not require that coroners be medical doctors like four other states do.

In Canada, the coroners office told The Globe and Mail it will review its identification process, but also said the men’s families participated in the process.