It took Bill and Louise Terra years of love and hard work to raise seven adopted children. The family they built was shattered in an instant early Monday when a car slammed into a concrete highway wall in Oakland.
The solo vehicle accident claimed the lives of two of the Terras' adopted children, David, 20, and Sara, 23. Sara Terra's 3-year-old identical twin boys, Jason and Jessie Woodson, were critically injured. One later died.
Authorities said the car's driver, 26-year-old Tiffany Reynolds, smelled of alcohol at the accident scene. Reynolds was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, manslaughter, and driving with a suspended license. Reynolds was speeding about 1:30 a.m. when she lost control of a 1990 Honda on Interstate 880 near Hegenberger Road. The vehicle veered across several lanes and hit a concrete wall, said CHP spokesman Sam Morgan.
Reynolds sustained serious injuries, with a fractured spine, chest and ribs.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
No car seats were found in the car or at the scene, said Morgan. One of the twin boys was thrown from the vehicle, the other was pinned beneath the steering column, said Morgan. One died about 9:30 a.m. Monday. The Alameda County coroner's office was attempting to identify which twin was killed.
On Tuesday, Bill and Louise Terra sat in their Modesto living room waiting for a phone call from Children's Hospital Oakland about the toddler's condition. The Terras said they believed it was Jessie who was still alive. The child was on life support and showed no sign of brain activity. After more tests, the family plans to make a decision about whether to continue life support.
The twins' father died in a shooting shortly after their birth.
Other news outlets reported that Sara Terra may have been pregnant. Bill and Louise Terra said Tuesday that coroner's officials told them their daughter was not pregnant.
Planning a Modesto visit
The Terras said they didn't know what David and Sara were doing in the hours leading up to Monday's accident. David Terra called his parents on Sunday, his birthday, to say he would visit them in Modesto next weekend. Hours later, he was dead.
The Terras said they had met driver Tiffany Reynolds, who lived with David and Sara, only once or twice. They suspected that Reynolds was a bad influence and tried to steer Sara and David away from her, they said.
"They were both good kids that made some bad choices," said Louise Terra. "We've all been there. Theirs just ended up tragically."
As they waited for news from the hospital, Bill Terra was dressed in a reminder of happier times: a T-shirt his children gave him for Father's Day years ago with a family photo on the front.
Bill rarely wears the shirt because he wants to keep it in mint condition, he said, but he put it on Tuesday morning to feel closer to his children.
The smiling family in the photo shows the Terras as many knew them, a clan The Bee called a "multiracial Brady Bunch" in a 1995 story that profiled the family.
Bill and Louise Terra adopted Latino siblings Paul and Lucia about 1987. Little more than a year later, they added Brian, Mark and Sara, whose racial mix was black and white. Next came David, whose parents were black and Latino. Then Matthew, a 14-year-old Ethiopian boy.
All of the children were "special needs," meaning that they had either physical or emotional challenges.
Not all 'wine and roses'
From the beginning, the brood meshed well. But, "it hasn't been all wine and roses," said Bill Terra.
"No family is," chimed in Louise.
At one point, the Terras had five children in high school at the same time. That period was a struggle. Louise Terra said she tried to teach her children to learn from their mistakes — and not make the same ones twice.
They said some of their children are now, finally, getting to the age when those lessons are sinking in. But they've worried about Sara and David. The two lived together in Richmond, sometimes with Reynolds.
They tried to help them steer clear of bad choices, "but there were other influences," said Louise Terra, a former English teacher at Modesto High School.
David worked as an aide at a care center for developmentally disabled adults. His parents remembered him as someone who was good with children and older people. Sara did not work outside the home, said the Terras.
Sara was a "pistol" from the time the Terras adopted her at age 3½, remembered Louise Terra. Her strong personality made her a good leader on the basketball court. But she also tended to be the ringleader who could easily lead her siblings into trouble, they said.
Over the past year, she had slipped away from her parents, said Louise Terra. Sara had invented a new name and "a fantasy life" for herself, she said.
"She wanted to be free," said Louise Terra. "We tried to make her understand that along with that freedom comes consequences."
The Terras said they don't know why David and Sara got into a car with an apparently drunk driver early Monday, and why they didn't put the twins in car seats. They said that David, as a former CHP Explorer, would have known how dangerous that was.
"It's another one of those bad choices," said Louise Terra. "They all knew better."
She added: "If we could control everything, that would be great. But we're not on our plan, we're on God's."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378.