Accident Victims’ Body Mix-Up Pains Parents
TAVARES, Fla. (AP) _ When the body of one of two teen-age girls killed in a traffic accident was exhumed, Hermon and Dianne Steverson’s horrible suspicion was confirmed.
The girl they had buried as their daughter, Heather, was actually her best friend, Sherri Blundell.
Heather had lain comatose in a hospital for six days after the accident with members of the Blundell family at her side.
Heather, 17, and Sherri, 18, were riding in a car together when they crashed into pine trees in Eustis last June. The driver of the car, Michael Cermak Jr., 19, is awaiting trial on two counts of manslaughter while driving drunk.
Sherri was president of the Tavares High Class of 1987, while Heather was vice president, and they planned to attend the University of Central Florida together.
Both girls had athletic builds, with about six pounds difference in their weights, Hermon Steverson said. They also had similar hairstyles. From a distance, Steverson said, the two girls had been hard to tell apart.
One girl, first thought to be Heather, died immediately at the accident scene. The other clung to life for six days at Orlando Regional Medical Center before she died.
The two girls were buried within a few feet of each other under a huge oak tree in Tavares Cemetery.
After the burials, doubts began to nag at the Steversons.
Steverson recalled how a friend of the family had gone to the Eustis Police Department to pick up jewelry Heather was wearing the night of the accident.
The jewelry turned out to be Sherri’s, Steverson said. He said Heather’s jewelry was found with Sherri at the hospital.
Steverson said that although he was troubled by the jewelry mix-up, he reasoned that the envelopes containing each girl’s jewelry somehow were switched. But after other discrepancies turned up in blood tests, he decided to ask for an exhumation.
A thumbprint check Monday confirmed what they had feared - the girl they had buried was Sherri.
″It’s a load off our minds, but we wasted six days of life with our daughter,″ said Steverson, owner of a funeral home which handled both burials. ″My wife and I really regret those six days.″
Art Blundell, Sherri’s father, could not be reached for comment.
The misidentification apparently stems from the accident scene, where the surviving girl was picked up by helicopter and flown to Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Eustis police Lt. Carmine Aurigemma said Monday his officers never positively identified either girl at the scene, though they did know the names of all riding in the wrecked car.
However, he said, officers at the scene established a preliminary seating arrangement of those in the car and reasoned that the most likely person on the helicopter was Sherri.
He said a friend of the Blundell family was contacted and that person was told to direct the girl’s relatives to the hospital to see if that girl was indeed Sherri.
Several hours after the accident, the hospital called the police department to say relatives had identified the injured girl as Sherri, Aurigemma said. He would not identify those relatives.