Guerra family vs. DPS; wants next of kin policy to change

A case of mistaken identity turned into a nightmare for one valley family who thought their loved one was dead for six days. 1/13/15
A case of mistaken identity turned into a nightmare for one valley family who thought their loved one was dead for six days. 

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday heard their case, the family demanding DPS officers get it right when they notify the next of kin.

Depending on how the court rules it could take a lot longer for law enforcement in Arizona to notify families their loved ones are dead.

Abby Guerra is 24-years-old and recovering from a crash that changed her life more than four years ago. She is now involved in a lawsuit against the state and the Department of Public Safety after officers told her parents that she was killed in the crash. It turns out Abby survived, and her friend Marlena Cantu was killed, but it took six days for officers to learn about the mixup. The Guerra family wants DPS to change their next of kin notification protocols.

"Just be more careful is what they're saying, and doing so people don't get the wrong information like my family did," she said.

The case has gone all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court after a Maricopa County court sided with the state and threw out the case without going to trial. If the justices decide the case should go to trial, officers may stop notifying families their loved ones are dead.

"If they are afraid large verdicts will occur then they are going to wait, and certainly their lawyers are going to tell them to wait," said Daniel Schaak, Assistant Arizona Attorney General.

They would wait until the investigation is complete or the medical examiner would have to make a death notification so that could be days or weeks.

"When you see a parent and you say tell me what your daughter was wearing, and they say oh it's my daughter, and you're saying oh the proper response is we're not going to tell you because our investigation is not complete," said Justice Robert M. Brutinel. 


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