Case of mistaken identity is corrected

Aug. 14, 1987
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HOOVER, Ala. -- A 17-year-old girl severely injured in a car accident while wearing a friend's class ring was mistakenly reported dead, and her relatives prepared for her funeral before learning she was alive in a hospital.

The mistake in identities was announced Wednesday night at the closed-casket visitation of Christie Lee Reeder, a Hoover girl whose funeral had been set for Thursday although she was very much alive.

'When the young man told me, I said, 'I'm her grandmother, what are you trying to tell me?'' Margaret Welch recalled. 'He said there was some sort of mix-up and Christie wasn't dead and it was another girl.

'When they announced it at the funeral home it was just bedlam.'

Hoover police Lt. Nick Derzis said Reeder had been confused with a friend, Susan Ponds, 17, of Hoover. Ponds was killed in a pre-dawn Tuesday car wreck in nearby Birmingham that left Reeder seriously injured and three others dead.

The car carrying five friends -- four girls who had been having a slumber party and a young man -- flipped over on its top, and injuries prevented easy identification of the victims, authorities said.

Reeder was mistakenly pronounced dead with the other three teenagers, and Ponds was reported as the only survivor and as having been taken to Carraway Methodist Medical Center

Reeder's aunt and uncle identified a body as that of their niece.

'Two members of the Reeder family identified the body of the Ponds girl as that of Christie Reeder and the Reeder girl had head injuries that required a breathing apparatus and you couldn't tell,' hospital spokesman Tom Doron said.

Doron said Ponds and Reeder had earlier swapped high school class rings, inscribed with their names, as a gesture of friendship. He said the girls were similar in size and appearance.

'The Reeder girl was wearing the Ponds girl's graduation ring and the Ponds girl was wearing her ring,' Doron said. 'We have a patient who is wearing a ring that says Susan Ponds.'

Derzis said Reeder's father, Matt, went to the hospital to collect belongings -- including jewelry -- that authorities thought belonged to his daughter. But Mr. Reeder didn't think the jewelry was his daughter's, Welch said.

'He went to the funeral home and he said it doesn't look like Christie, but they said it was. He went to the police station and told them that it wasn't Christie,' Welch said.

Doron said a dental records check revealed the mistake in identities.

The Reeder girl's obituary was published in the Birmingham Post-Herald and a Thursday funeral was scheduled at Ridout's Southern Heritage Chapel.

After the case of mistaken identities was announced at the closed-casket visitation, the Reeder family went to the hospital to find the Ponds family.

'The Ponds girl's parents were in the hospital for over a day and still not realizing that it's not their daughter,' Derzis said.

Welch said her granddaughter, the only one in the vehicle wearing a seat belt, was on a respirator with a broken neck and arm and internal injuries.

Also killed were the driver, Todd Allen Patterson, 18, of Vestavia Hilla; Margaret Ashleigh Nutter, 16, of Hoover; and Heather K. Hyde, 17, of Hoover.

Friends and neighbors said the four girls had been spending the night at the home of Nutter, whom Patterson was dating.

Police say the Ford Mustang ran off a road, hit a ditch and flipped.

'The speed limit in the area was 30 mph and I can say that it's going to exceed 30 mph but we're waiting on traffic investigators to determine for sure,' Derzis said.

'It's very tragic, this thing,' Doron said.

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