Parents discuss hospital mix-up involving daughter's death in Ariz. crash


by Alicia E. Barrón

Posted on July 26, 2010 at 9:30 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 26 at 10:01 PM

PHOENIX - It took six days before anybody realized there was a mistake with two friends involved in a fatal car crash.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office is blaming a backlog while St. Joe’s Hospital and the Department of Public Safety explain what happened.

A group of friends crashed on Interstate 10 west of the Valley near Tonopah on July 18. They were driving back from a trip to Disneyland when their SUV flipped, killing two of them and sending the rest to the hospital.

At a joint press conference Monday, DPS and St Joseph's Hospital representatives tried to explain how two of the crash victims were misidentified.

Suzanne Pfister, with St. Joe’s, explains, "Sometimes the severity of a situation can impact a patient's visual appearance so dramatically…they're hard or impossible to recognize."

Last Sunday night DPS and hospital officials thought they had enough information from the families to conclude that April Guerra, who goes by Abby, had died and her friend Marlena Cantu had survived. We know now that they had it backwards.

Nevertheless, Cantu’s family who thought they had spent the week at their daughter's hospital bedside say they knew something was not right. The girl in the bed looked too short and her hair and skin appeared too dark to be Marlena.

Her mother, Renie Cantu, tells 3TV, “I said 'Wow. I asked the nurse, why is Marlena so dark?’ And she says ‘Oh because she got so much blood in the transfusion and sometimes it changes skin color’. So I said 'ok' and just took it like that."

They say the final clue was that Marlena had a scar from an appendix operation and the girl in the hospital bed did not.

On Saturday the medical examiner, using fingerprint and dental records, confirmed the mix-up.

Renie explains, “They came back and said 'Sorry' that's not my daughter. My daughter was in the morgue."  

None of the agencies involved: The medical examiner, the hospital nor DPS is taking full responsibility for the mix-up but they have all expressed condolences to the families.

Hospital officials say this is the first time anything like this has ever happened.