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Florida family sues after daughters' bodies switched after car crash

Posted at 3:34 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-06 15:34:06-05

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The parents of two teenagers killed in a car crash are suing the Florida Highway Patrol and others, claiming the bodies of their daughters were misidentified and switched.

The lawsuits follow a July 29 crash in the Pensacola area involving four friends. Two of them were killed: Deleigha "Leigha" Gibson, 18, and Samara Cooks, 15.

Despite their age difference and different physical characteristics, according the lawsuits their identities were switched. One was also an organ donor and the other was not, leading to a mix-up in harvesting organs, according to the lawsuits.

Deleigha's father, Demetrius Gibson, said it's been hard for the family to deal with not only the car crash but also the problem in identifying the bodies.

“Basically, we were heartbroken about that. We are just trying to get everything right and give her a proper burial," he said in an interview Friday.

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages from the FHP, several Escambia County officials and two funeral homes. FHP did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. The funeral homes declined comment.

There were four teenagers in the car that night. The parents said they were known as the “Four Amigos” and spent many hours together. Their car veered out of control about 1:30 a.m. on July 29, hit a utility pole and then skidded into trees. Two of them died.

The mother of Samara Cooks, Renada Cooks, said she traveled from her Atlanta home to verify her daughter's remains. What she found shocked her as well as Gibson's mother, Tammy.

“I walked in to see my daughter, and I saw Tammy’s daughter. Precious moments were taken away from us that we deserved to have,” she said.

According to the lawsuits, the local medical examiner released the wrong bodies to the wrong funeral homes, which embalmed the wrong bodies without authorization.

One of the teenagers, Gibson, had signed up to be an organ donor in the case of her death. Instead, authorities apparently harvested organs from Cooks, who had not given consent.

The lawsuit also said that when Cooks' mother brought clothes to one of the funeral homes, the funeral home staff told her “that she needed even larger clothes because they would not fit Samara Cooks.”

That was because the body in the funeral home was that of Deleigha Gibson.

The lawsuits were filed by the Gibson and Cooks families in Escambia County Circuit Court. Both demand a jury trial. No trial date has been scheduled.