Lori Baker was at a Lakewood, Pierce County, funeral home Wednesday preparing to bury her 24-year-old daughter when she asked to see the body, which she hadn’t been able to view since learning of her death Monday.
Baker got a surprise that left her both shocked and relieved.
“It wasn’t her,” Baker told The News Tribune. “It wasn’t my daughter.”
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office admitted Wednesday that it made a mistake in identifying the body of a woman who was killed when she was hit by a pickup in Spanaway last week.
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A miscommunication between the hospital that reported the woman’s death to the Medical Examiner’s Office and “a misunderstanding involving several members of our staff” led the office to release the wrong name, Dr. Thomas Clark, the county’s medical examiner, said in a statement.
The woman who died was not Samantha Kennedy, as the office originally told media outlets and Kennedy’s family. The victim is in fact Jade Nicole Aubrey-Peterson, 25, a Pierce County resident, Clark said in his statement.
“We really regret that it happened,” he later told The News Tribune. His office is changing its practices to try to avoid a similar mistake in the future, Clark said.
Aubrey-Peterson died after she was hit on Highway 7 near 211 Street Court E. about 9:45 p.m. Friday. She was not carrying identification.
The hospital that received her body at some point contacted the Medical Examiner’s Office to report the death. During that conversation, a hospital worker also reported “contact with a man who said his friend was missing and that she had a distinctive tattoo,” Clark said in his statement.
The body delivered to the Medical Examiner’s Office had a distinctive tattoo, but it was that of Aubrey-Peterson, not that of the missing Kennedy. But someone at the Medical Examiner’s Office thought otherwise and released Kennedy’s name, Clark said.
Clark said it is not uncommon for bodies to arrive at the Medical Examiner’s Office without identification and that the office has protocols for determining the dead person’s name in such cases.
“Those protocols include scientific methods, such as fingerprints, DNA and dental records, but those are not used unless necessary because they are time-consuming, expensive and create delays that are burdensome on families,” Clark said in his statement. “In most cases, identification can be resolved by driver’s licenses and family identification of distinctive features, such as tattoos.”
His office rarely has family members come in to view a corpse because the facility is not set up to make that easy or efficient, Clark said.
In this case, Clark said, his staff should have done a better job of confirming the woman’s identification. Still no one is likely to be disciplined, he said.
“I don’t think anyone did anything wrong. It was a simple misunderstanding,” he said. “The appropriate response is to adjust your policies and practices to ensure something like this does not happen again. We are reviewing the circumstances and will adjust our practices.”
Baker said the news of her daughter’s alleged death was devastating. She told Kennedy’s 7-year-old daughter, who lives with her, that her mother was dead and also reported the news to other family members.
“I thought for three days my daughter was dead,” she said.
Now, she’s shifting gears to try to contact Kennedy, with whom she’s had only sporadic contact since she left home at 16.
“I still don’t know where my daughter is, but at least I know she’s not the one who was killed,” Baker said. “I’m really relieved.”