I can’t even imagine how horrible this would be.

Crash on I-5 in Mission Viejo takes family’s three kids

Big-rig that slammed into their minivan couldn’t stop in time.

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MISSION VIEJO – Lori Coble beamed as she posed for the camera with her husband and their three small children. Katie was still a baby, perched on Lori’s hip. Kyle and Emma – in matching white shirts, jeans and flip-flops – grinned as they crowded on their dad Chris’ lap.

“Kyle, Katie and Emma – the crazy monkeys” as the Ladera Ranch family’s Web site proclaimed. The kids grew up so fast.

The dream was abruptly shattered about 1:10 p.m. Friday when a big-rig slammed into the back of the family’s 2006 Chrysler Town & Country minivan on the southbound Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway north of Oso Parkway.

The three Coble kids were in the back of the minivan, strapped into car seats and booster seats. Lori was driving. Grandmother Cynthia Maestri was in the front passenger seat.

Two-year-old Katie and 5-year-old Kyle were rushed to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. Katie died just before 2 p.m. Four-year-old Emma died minutes later at Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Laguna Hills, California Highway Patrol officer Katrina Lundgren said.

All lanes of the freeway were shut down while a LifeFlight helicopter landed on the freeway for about five minutes to pick up the critically injured Maestri. She was airlifted to Western Medical Center. Lori was rushed by paramedics to the same hospital with critical injuries. Both have since been taken to Mission Hospital and their conditions upgraded on Saturday to fair/stable, according to Paula Serios, vice president of marketing at the hospital.

At Mission, Kyle was rushed into surgery. Doctors did everything they could. He died at 8:52 p.m.

Friday afternoon traffic had slowed to a crawl near Oso Parkway. The silver Chrysler minivan was stopped in the slow lane as the cars headed south stacked up.

The black-and-white big-rig came up behind the Chrysler between 55 and 60 mph, according to what the driver later told California Highway Patrol investigators. Packed with electronics, the big-rig didn’t stop and slammed into the back of the minivan, driving through the backseat of the Chrysler where the children were sitting.

The semi drove through the back of the minivan, crushing it and pushing it into a Chevy Tahoe that was stopped ahead, CHP officer Katrina Lundgren said.

Andy Tran, 32, who installs blinds for a living in Santa Ana, grabbed his tools and tried to get the children out of the car. Glass was everywhere. Kyle was bleeding. The car seats were mangled.

There was little Tran and others could do. He pulled out a blue blanket and laid it down – a touch of comfort for the victims.

“I’ve seen a lot of accidents, but this is the worst one I’ve ever seen,” Tran said. “Just seeing the kids. I can’t forget it.”

A firefighter chaplain in full gear hugged bystanders and offered comfort. Firefighters were teary-eyed. The van’s vanity license plates “MEMOMMY” crumpled under the wreckage.

The Cobles recorded their lives on their family Web site. A 2001 wedding. Trips to the Wild Animal Park. Birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Kyle’s soccer pictures. Katie made her debut on the site even before she was born – with ultrasounds. Memories lovingly collected, archived and organized.

Neighbors and friends paused in front of the family’s Ladera Ranch home Friday night. A woman and two young girls lit candles and prayed. A small stuffed tiger sat next to flowers. An American flag hung from the Cobles’ two-story house.

The driver of the Tahoe, Jack H. Sweet, 48, of Mission Viejo, was taken to Mission with minor injuries.

In the nearly 3-mile stretch between Crown Valley Parkway and La Paz Road, there have been 2,281 accidents and five fatalities in the past 10 years, according to CHP records.

CHP investigators spent hours questioning the driver, Jorge Miguel Romero, 37, of Apple Valley, who said he saw the traffic backed up, applied the brakes but couldn’t stop in time.

Fontana-based leasing company Aurora TRL, which owns the truck, did not return calls for comment.

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