Crash Victims' Misidentification in Dispute

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The father of one of two young women misidentified after being involved in a recent fatal car crash, has blamed miscommunication for the tragic mix-up.

College sophomores Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu were returning from a trip to Disneyland on July 18 when the SUV they were travelling in blew a tire and rolled over. Cantu, 21, died in the wreck. Nineteen-year-old Guerra is reported to be in critical condition.

According to Frank Cantu, Marlena's father, the confusion began when officials at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center correctly identified the girl who was killed - but then notified the wrong family.

"They talked to the wrong person," he said.

On Monday, hospital authorities said the womens' injuries made their identification difficult.

"Sometimes the severity of a situation can impact the patient's visual appearance so dramatically that they are almost hard to recognize," said Suzanne Pfister, the hospital's vice president of external affairs.

"The hospital does not conduct fingerprinting nor do dental records in the middle of a trauma situation, because the overwhelming emphasis is on saving the patient's life," Pfister explained.

"We interviewed family members that evening and asked for any discernable visual information that could help us make that positive identification," she said.

An autopsy, which could have clearly identified the two, wasn't performed until five days after the accident. The medical examiner's office blamed the delay on a heavy caseload.

Meanwhile, Frank Cantu said that, while he didn't blame anyone for the mix-up, he hopes measures will be taken to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

"We want to find a better solution," he said. "We don't want this to happen to anybody else."

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