In an instant last May, Chris and Lori Coble lost their three young children in a horrific traffic accident not far from the family’s California home.
The couple was devastated by the sudden and profound loss of their two daughters and a son, but knew even through their grief they were meant to be parents and would be again.
If all goes well, the Cobles told TODAY anchor Meredith Vieira on Tuesday, they’ll have two new baby girls and a baby boy next spring. The couple can’t help but think that it’s all connected.
“We both knew we wanted more kids,” Lori Coble told Vieira. “We’re parents right now without kids. The kids are what made us so happy in life. We knew that if we were still living that we wanted to have more kids.”
Chris Coble said he can’t help but think, from a spiritual perspective, that the children he lost somehow had a hand in his wife’s pregnancy. He believes firmly they are in a better place, and watching over their mom and dad.
“Your mind can’t even think otherwise. If you feel they’re somewhere watching over you, protecting you, and something like this happens, it’s hard to think that somehow they weren’t involved in crafting this,” he said.
The triplets Lori Coble is carrying — two girls and a boy — were conceived through in vitro fertilization. In the procedure, 10 of Lori Coble’s eggs had been fertilized and three became viable embryos.
Chris Coble, 36, said there was just a 10 percent chance that three of the 10 eggs would be viable. The doctors wanted to implant just two of the embryos, but the couple had lost two girls and a boy and asked for all three embryos to be transferred to Lori Coble’s womb.
Tragedy on the highway
On May 4, Lori Coble, 30, was driving home from lunch on Interstate 5 with her mother, Cynthia Maestri, 60, in the front seat of the family’s minivan. Behind them were Kyle, 5, who was playing a video game, Emma, 4, who was watching TV, and Katie, 2, who had fallen asleep.
Traffic was moving rapidly in the center and left lanes, but the right lane was stop-and-go with cars backed up on the Mission Viejo exit ramp Lori Coble intended to take. She remembers looking back while the car was stopped to check on her children, and squeezing Katie’s toe to wake her up so she would be able to nap when they got home.
What happened next she knows only from what others have told her.
A tractor-trailer loaded with 20 tons of electronics and traveling an estimated 70 mph slammed into the back of the minivan, killing all three children and seriously injuring Lori Coble and her mother.
The funeral was a heart-wrenching affair, presided over by Chris Coble’s father, the Rev. Robert Coble, a Presbyterian priest from Pennsylvania, and attended by hundreds from the family’s community. At the service, the parents spoke about the joy their children had brought them, and Chris Coble talked about the welcome they would give him when he came home from work.
“It was a stampede to the front door, screaming ‘Daddy!’ I felt bad because I couldn't hug them all at once,” he said at the time. “We don't know how we're going to move on from here.”
“I hope that some day they will be parents again, because they have so much to give,” Robert Coble told a reporter at the funeral.
Chris and Lori Coble shared that desire. The couple knew they couldn’t replace their children, but hoped they could still bring more children into the world.
“It was an amazing thing,” Chris Coble said of learning that three viable embryos had survived the procedure. “We kind of took this as a sign. Even though the doctor was more conservative and wanted to put two back, we decided once there were two girls and a boy — that’s pretty ironic, and we put all three in.”
Since the accident, the Cobles have become active in the Virginia-based Truck Safety Coalition, a citizen’s lobby working for stricter regulation of the trucking industry. According to the coalition, some 5,000 lives are taken in accidents with big rigs.
“This is an industry that’s based on payment on miles driven,” Chris Coble told Vieira. “For a lot of truckers, if that truck isn’t rolling, they’re not getting paid, which really sets up an entire industry where it promotes danger and real safety concerns. These truckers are speeding and they’re tired and we’d like to get that changed.”
They’re trying to see laws enacted to further limit the hours truckers can be on the road. The man who hit their minivan, Jorge Miguel Romero, 37, had been cited for speeding in 2002 and 2006.
Investigators said he had been inattentive at the time he hit Lori Coble’s van and may have been talking on a cell phone. Romero has pleaded not guilty to three counts of vehicular manslaughter.
The Cobles want the United States to adopt the same laws that are in place in Europe and many other countries that require onboard computers in trucks to track their speed and location through a GPS system.
“This has dramatically cut down on truck deaths in other countries,” Chris Coble said. “I want to ask lawmakers and everyone else, ‘How come we can’t have that same policy in this country?’ We’re woefully behind.”
The couple still sees a counselor every week to help them deal with the conflicting emotions they are going through with the loss of three beautiful and vital children and the promise of three new babies next year.
“That’s helped us sort through the issues about trying to deal with the grief and at the same time thinking about the happiness to come,” Chris Coble told Vieira. “It’s a two-sided coin and we deal with it every day.”