Player alive in mistaken identity case

Updated: July 27, 2010, 1:45 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

PHOENIX -- Women's soccer players from the University of Evansville had planned to travel to Arizona for a teammate's funeral. Now they're dealing with a full gamut of emotions after receiving word that she's alive.

Evansville athletic director John Stanley said the players were grief-stricken when told last week that 19-year-old Abby Guerra had been killed in an Arizona traffic crash. They had expected to attend her funeral on Monday.

Guerra
Guerra

But that changed when word came there had been a case of mistaken identity.

"We have confirmed that Abby did not die in the accident," Stanley said Sunday, according to the Evansville Courier & Press. "Yesterday, Abby's parents learned that a young woman lying in a hospital bed in Arizona was in fact their daughter, and the parents of the other girl learned that the daughter they thought was hospitalized was in fact deceased."

Guerra's friend, 21-year-old Marlena Cantu, actually died in the crash. The mix-up was discovered Saturday.

Cantu's father said the hospital mixed up the families, not the victims.

Frank Cantu says the hospital used information provided by the families to correctly determine it was 19-year-old Abby Guerra who survived the July 18 crash -- not his 21-year-old daughter, Marlena Cantu. But he says hospital staff mistakenly came to him and said the critically injured woman was his daughter.

Frank Cantu says Guerra was then assumed to be the woman killed at the scene.

"As doctors struggled to save this patient's life, we could not readily tell the patient's identification," Suzanne Pfister, vice president for external affairs at St. Joseph's, said in a news conference earlier Monday. "We interviewed family members that evening and asked for any discernible information that could help us make that positive identification," such as bone breaks, scars or other marks.

"From the information that was provided us on that evening, we believed the patient was Marlena Cantu," Pfister said. "DPS communicated that information to the family."

The Maricopa County medical examiner's office says that because of its caseload, it didn't perform an autopsy on the woman who died until five days after the crash.

The office determined the victim was Guerra, not Cantu, after comparing dental records.

Guerra's Evansville teammates are in Phoenix to support her and her family, Stanley said.

Guerra is a nursing major and this fall was scheduled to begin her sophomore year. She was listed in critical condition on Sunday at a Phoenix-area hospital, the Arizona Republic reported.

Evansville students and faculty received the news in an e-mail sent before a news conference announcing the mistaken identity, the Courier & Press reported.

Cantu and Guerra were part of a group of high school friends on the way home from Disneyland last Sunday when the SUV they were riding in suffered a tire blowout. Officials incorrectly stated that Guerra had died at the scene. A male victim died after being hospitalized and two other passengers -- including one believed at the time to be Cantu -- were hospitalized with severe head trauma.

A benefit car wash for the two families was held on Sunday in Glendale.

"We've already paid for the funeral for tomorrow," Guerra's aunt, Dorenda Cisneros, said Sunday at the car wash, according to the Arizona Republic. "Never, ever, ever did we have one inclination that she may be alive."

Marlena Cantu's family was reeling from the discovery that she had died.

"You don't hear this in real life," her uncle, Louis Macias, said, according to the report. "It's devastating. I don't know what else to say."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.