On April 26, 2006, Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn were two girls traveling home from an event in a group of seven others. Their van collided with a semi-truck along a freeway in Grant County, Indiana. Five people were killed, and four others were badly injured. Unfortunately, the events that followed the accident were a tragic event. In the end, a case of mistaken identity was revealed, and multiple popular television shows aired episodes based upon these events. The season 4 episode of House – “Alone” – is based on the case of Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn.
The Real-Life Identity Switch
Right after the accident, medical personnel responded and found a big scene of wreckage. Of the four survivors, one of them was a blond-haired girl with severe head trauma and various physical injuries. She was mistakenly identified as Laura Van Ryn. Of the five dead, a blond-haired girl, also with severe head trauma, was identified as Whitney Cerak. Both girls looked somewhat similar before the accident and were misidentified as each other in a tragic mix-up.
Cerak’s family had to go to the morgue to identify their daughter, which they did. Meanwhile, Van Ryn’s family went to the hospital to be with their daughter. In reality, a bag with Van Ryn’s I.D. next to Cerak’s injured body led to the wrongful identification at the accident scene. Weeks after Cerak (really Van Ryn) was buried, the case of mistaken identity was brought to light – to the shock of everyone involved with the accident.
In the House episode “Alone”, a building collapses while people are inside of it, bringing a girl with severe injuries to her body (including her face). She is displaying further problems that are unrelated to the accident, which House must cure. As the girl’s symptoms worsen, House is unable to figure out what is wrong with the girl. He suspects anti-depressants or some unknown drug but still cannot figure it out. Throughout the episode, various tests and treatments are used, from a biopsy to dialysis and more.
House believes the girl to be lying at one point about her recent past, until it is found that the girl is suffering an allergic reaction. Megan’s lies while in the hospital explain everything but her allergic reaction. In the end, House realizes that Megan Bradberry is actually her co-worker Liz, a girl who looks like Megan and was in the building at the time. The real Megan died in the building collapse.
Mistaken Identification and Television Shows
Cases of mistaken identity happen fairly often, but maybe not on the level of the Cerak-Van Ryn case. Still, mistaken identity cases can and do affect everyone tied to the case, which is a tragic event. Real-life cases of any event that gains a lot of attention are usually re-enacted on television shows, involving similar circumstances but perhaps a different location or outcome. “Alone” wasn’t the first episode of a show to be based upon real-life events and it won’t be the last.
The Story of Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn
House Episode “Alone” Recap