Florida teens misidentified after deadly car crash, according to new lawsuit

Minyvonne Burke

The families of two teenagers killed in a Florida car crash filed lawsuits alleging that the girls were misidentified by authorities, and the organs from the wrong girl were removed.

Samara Cooks, 15, and Deleigha Gibson, 18, died on July 29, 2019, after the car they were in crashed into a utility pole in Escambia County.

A crash report from the Florida Highway Patrol says the accident occurred just before 1:30 a.m. when the car veered into another lane and then swerved back, striking a pole. Four people were in the car at the time and one was ejected in the crash.

Cooks and Gibson were pronounced dead at the scene. The other two people survived and were taken to the hospital. The report says that alcohol was not suspected in the crash.

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.

The suit further alleges that the error was not caught by the coroner and 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.

The suit states that Ranada Cooks tried several times to view her daughter's body but was denied. It wasn't until she saw the body at the funeral home that she realized the error.

"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."

Ranada Cooks said she had a sense of hope that her daughter may have still been alive, but it "was false hope."

Her attorney, Artie Shimek, said at the press conference that Florida Highway Patrol, the medical examiner's office and the funeral homes which took both girls had photos of them and still did not realize the bodies had been switched.

When Ranada Cooks alerted the funeral home to the mix-up, Shimek said they tried to switch the bodies back without the families knowing.

"I just really wish that they treated her with dignity. Let her go out like a lady," Ranada Cooks said. "I think they failed our girls."

Demetrius Gibson, the father of the second victim, said the mix-up has delayed their grieving process.

"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."

Ranada Cooks's lawsuit states that she's suffered from nightmares and has "extreme emotional trauma." She's seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

The medical examiner's officer and funeral homes did not immediately return NBC News' requests for comment. The Florida Highway Patrol said it "extends its deepest condolences to the families for their tragic loss" and could not comment further.

Samara Cooks (left) and Deleigha Gibson (right) died on July 29, 2019, after the car they were in crashed into a utility pole in Escambia County, Florida.
A lawsuit filed by Samara Cooks' mother, alleges that Florida Highway Patrol found Deleigha Gibson's identification at the scene of the accident but incorrectly tagged Gibson as her daughter.
Deleigha Gibson's father said the mix-up has delayed their grieving process.