Driver Charged In Victim Mix-Up Case

This combination of undated photos released by Taylor University, shows Whitney Cerak, left, and Laura VanRyn, both students at Taylor University. The family of Cerak was incorrectly told Whitney had died in an April 26, 2006 van crash, while the family of VanRyn was erroneously informed Laura was in a coma. Cerak, 18, of Gaylord, Mich., actually has been hospitalized since the crash. VanRyn, 22, died in the crash. (AP Photo/Taylor University)
AP Photo/Taylor University
A truck driver was charged Friday with five counts of reckless homicide for a highway crash that crushed a university van and led to the heartbreaking mix-up of two students, one killed in the crash and the other severely injured but alive.

A four-month investigation concluded that trucker Robert F. Spencer acted recklessly when his tractor-trailer rig crossed the highway median and collided with the van on April 26, Grant County Prosecutor James Luttrull Jr. said.

Four Taylor University students and a staff member were killed.

The crash drew widespread attention when two families discovered that one of the victims had been misidentified as a survivor. The two young women were similar in appearance, and the family of the one who died had kept vigil for five weeks at the bedside of the survivor, Whitney Cerak, believing she was their daughter. Cerak's family had buried 22-year-old Laura VanRyn's body, believing she was Whitney.

Luttrull said investigators had to decide whether Spencer, 37, was simply negligent or criminally reckless.

Spencer, 37, was arrested Friday afternoon at his trailer home in Canton Township, Michigan, near Detroit. He walked past television cameras with his head down.

Statements from witnesses and equipment tests suggest Spencer fell asleep at the wheel before his truck, loaded with baking flour, drifted across the median between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.

A probable cause affidavit said evidence showed Spencer had the truck's air conditioner on maximum with his windows down. Records show he called his sister on his cell phone minutes before the accident but was not talking when the crash happened. His sister did hear the accident, the affidavit said.

The Michigan secretary of state's office, which regulates drivers in that state, cautioned Spencer last August after he had accumulated five infraction points against his license in two years.

Records show several traffic violations, including two for speeding while driving his truck and three for disobeying traffic controls while driving his personal vehicle. His license was suspended for a day for failing to pay a ticket in 1999.

Cerak, 19, of Gaylord, Michigan, was in a coma-like state for several weeks after the crash but has largely recovered. She returned to Taylor this week to begin her second year.