Mom mistakenly told daughter is dead

PUYALLUP (KING) -- A notebook sits on Lori Baker's coffee table, filled with scribbled words she hoped she would never write. It's a rough draft of her own daughter's obituary.

"Samantha Rose Kennedy, 24," she read, "Passed away March 14th, 2014 as a result of a pedestrian-vehicle accident."

Three days earlier, a Pierce County chaplain came to Baker's door to inform her family Samantha Kennedy had been hit by a car along State Route 7 in Spanaway, and died.

"I believed what they told me," said Baker, "That my daughter was dead."

The determination was made by the Pierce County Medical Examiner, using information provided initially by Tacoma General Hospital and later, with first-hand viewing of the body.

Key to the identification, a tattoo and a picture provided, along with a report given to the hospital of a missing woman, Samantha Kennedy.

But according to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark, something was lost in translation.

"We work in a gray area," Dr. Clark said, "We did what we normally do. We thought it would be sufficient, but in retrospect, it wasn't."

Somehow, the situations of two different women were merged. Kennedy is reported missing, her mother rarely sees her. And someone really was hit and killed along the highway. But they are not the same person.

So Wednesday morning, the chaplain came back to Baker's front door.

"He said, I'm sorry, but there's been a mistake," Baker recalled, "I cussed. I said, 'what do you do? Just go around telling family members they are dead and then say, oops, my mistake?'"

Dr. Clark expressed his deep apologies to the Baker family. He said the actual victim's family has been notified of her passing.

Baker cannot accept the apology, at least not now. She is, however, glad to know her obituary is no longer needed.

"I know my child is alive," she said, "I'm so relieved."


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