When tragedy strikes causing untimely death, it is especially important that the bodies of the deceased be handled with the utmost care and attention to detail; otherwise, family members, who are already dealing with unimaginable grief and shock, will be burdened with further distress.
Such is the case for the families of two teenagers killed in a Florida car crash in July of last year.
According to NBC News, 15-year old Samara Cooks and 18-year old Deleigha Gibson died on July 29, 2019, after the car they were in crashed into a utility pole in Escambia County. Four people were in the car at the time with one being ejected from the car in the crash. Cooks and Gibson were pronounced dead at the scene while, thankfully, the other two people survived and were taken to the hospital, according to a report by the Florida Highway Patrol.
Unfortunately, this sad and tragic story doesn’t end there. From NBC News:
A lawsuit filed by Ranada Cooks, the mother of Samara, alleges that Florida Highway Patrol found Gibson’s identification at the scene of the accident but incorrectly tagged Gibson as her daughter. Samara Cooks was incorrectly tagged as Gibson.
The suit, filed Thursday in Escambia County Circuit Court, names Florida Highway Patrol, the county medical examiner’s office and the two funeral homes which took the bodies. The Gibson family filed a separate lawsuit.
“Samara Cooks and Deleigha Gibson were different ages and had different heights, weights, and physical appearances,” Ranada Cooks’ lawsuit says, adding that Gibson was also an organ donor. Both girls were black.
Part of the issue—besides the fact that the girls’ bodies passed through so many hands and the oversight stood uncorrected—is that Cooks was not listed as an organ donor and yet, because of the error, the county medical examiner’s office “extracted several organs from the body of Samara Cooks, who was not an organ donor.”
“Such unauthorized invasion of her daughter’s body has caused Plaintiff, Ranada Cooks, extreme stress and anxiety,” according to the lawsuit.
Making matters worse, Ranada was denied permission to view her daughter’s body after trying several times. According to NBC, she wasn’t allowed to view the body until she was at the funeral home. Imagine the shock and trauma of finally being able to view your child’s body only to realize it isn’t your child.
“When I was allowed to visit with her, I was robbed of that first chance of viewing her because I did walk in and see Ms. Deleigha,” she said at a press conference Friday with her attorney and Gibson’s parents. “It was not Samara.” Cooks said she was given “false hope” that her daughter may still be alive after viewing a body that was not hers.
Artie Shimek, Cooks’ attorney, said in a press conference that when the medical examiner’s office was alerted of the mix-up, they tried to cover themselves by switching the bodies back without the families knowing. That clearly didn’t work. That they mixed the girls up in the first place despite having photos of them both is bad enough; trying to cover their tracks rather than owning up to their mistake, makes the whole situation feel all the more dubious.
“I just really wish that they treated her with dignity. Let her go out like a lady,” Cooks said. “I think they failed our girls.”
Her lawsuit states that she’s suffered from nightmares and has “extreme emotional trauma” resulting from the tragedy and the mishandling of her daughter in its wake. She’s seeking an unspecified amount of damages, according to NBC.
Deleigha’s father, Demetrius Gibson, also had much to say about the situation and how it further complicated their grieving process and, specifically, how his daughter was denied as an organ donor due to the mix-up.
“The thing I really want to say is her last wish was not fulfilled because she was an organ donor,” he said. “It was real brave of her to want to be an organ donor. For her not to get her last wish to maybe help a number of people, maybe even save someone’s life, help someone out, is unfortunate.”
Jessica Givens, the attorney for the Gibson family, said they filed the lawsuits because “these families need answers and, thus far, they’ve been provided none.”