The remains of two Florida teenagers were misidentified in a disturbing mix-up that was only caught after organs had already been removed from the wrong body, according to a new lawsuit.
Both 15-year-old Samara Cooks and 18-year-old Deleigha Gibson were in a vehicle with two of their best friends on July 28 when it spun out of control in the early hours of the morning and struck a utility pole outside Pensacola.
The driver, 20-year-old Daichunique Lavender and another passenger, Alexandria Banks, were critically injured but survived the brutal wreck. Both Samara and Deleigha however were pronounced dead on the scene.
Cooks’ mother, Rananda, said she was already struggling to grieve the loss when she learned her daughter’s body has been swapped with her friend’s. She only found out after she requested to see Samara ahead of her wake.
“That’s when I noticed that it was not Samara and it was a mix-up,” she told CBS News. "I was thinking, ‘Well maybe there’s a chance that she’s still alive.'”
Deleigha’s parents also learned about the horrific switch while at a funeral home – but only after staff there allegedly tried to switch the bodies back without anyone knowing.
Her father, Demetrius, described the moment as “just heart-dropping.”
Both families on Thursday filed sued the Florida Highway Patrol, the Escambia County coroner and medical examiner as well as the funeral homes.
“There is a lack of candor and dignity involved with the public entities that we are suing,” the Cooks’ attorney, Artie Shimek, said during a Friday news conference.
“They callously disregarded the rights, would not cooperate, would not tell these families anything during a time of unimaginable grief. A time that should be sacred.”
Attorney John Givens told CBS the families’ lawsuits allege Florida Highway Patrol officers “incorrectly tagged the victims at the crash site.”
It additionally accused Escambia County’s former medical examiner of failing to “enforce appropriate policies and procedures, which resulted in the medical examiner’s office extracting “several organs from the body of Samara Cooks, who was not an organ donor.”
Despite the indicator on her driver’s license, Deleigha’s organs were not harvested following her death, Givens noted.
Both families said they were initially told it was against policy to allow families to view the bodies of their loved ones.
In their suits, Samara’s mother said she suffered from nightmares, anxiety and loss of appetite while Gibson’s mother said the incident caused her metal deterioration.
In statement to the CBS, authorities blamed the mix-up on the chaotic crash scene.
“Due to the nature of this crash involving multiple ejections, positive identification at the scene were not made,” police said, adding that they continue to further review the case.