A Lodi husband and wife are in medical comas due to third-degree burns and his parents are dead after a fiery vehicle crash in Nevada on Monday.
Rodney Tate Sr., 44, who works at General Mills, and his wife, Vickie Tate, 44, remain in a Salt Lake City hospital's burn unit. Tate's parents, Kenneth and Loretta Tate, 73 and 71 respectively, died at the scene on Interstate 80 between Winnemucca and Battle Mountain.
Family members are optimistic that the younger couple would recover, but they are also mourning the loss of the family's patriarchs.
After 52 years of marriage, Kenneth and Loretta Tate were still in love. They still held hands, and they'd said more than once that they hoped they died together.
Three of their grieving granddaughters had a small amount of solace Tuesday when they learned that the Tates had indeed died together, sitting beside each other in a van.
Their son suffered burns on 80 percent of his body; his wife had burns on 60 percent of her body, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol. Both were taken to a Salt Lake City hospital's burn unit, where family said they remain in medically induced comas.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but highway patrol said Vickie Tate was driving the 2000 Dodge Caravan west on Interstate 80. They were in a desolate area about 23 miles west of Battle Mountain when the van drifted into the median around 11:30 a.m. Monday.
The vehicle struck a metal road reflector, overturned and caught fire.
The four were on their way back from Missouri, where they were tending to a farm that's been in the family for decades, though the Tates themselves have lived in Lodi for at least 50 years.
While in Missouri, the senior Tate was driving a tractor when it rolled over and trapped his legs. Vickie Tate heard him screaming for help, and Rodney Tate managed to pull the tractor off his father, granddaughter Christina Pimentel said. The elder Tate suffered a broken foot, and doctors said he would have lost both legs had Rodney Tate not gotten there in time, Pimentel said.
Kenneth Tate retired as a foreman from General Mills and still attended reunions there. He always had a joke, loved to get into political discussions and constantly helped his four children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and countless distant relatives.
"If the grass was too long, my grandpa would come cut it. If your wheels were squeaky, he'd fix them," said granddaughter Jennifer Tate.
Loretta Tate was the type of grandmother who could be trusted with any confidence, her granddaughters said. And she was the one who would gather the whole family together every Christmas, organize all the cooking and try to cram them into her Sunset Drive house.
Pimentel wants that tradition to continue this year, because she knows it's what her grandmother would want.
How long it will take for Rodney and Vickie Tate to return to Lodi is not known, as burns can require lengthy medical care. Their three adult children left at 3 a.m. Tuesday on a plane to the Utah hospital.
On Tuesday afternoon, granddaughter Jamie Amann was relieved to get a phone call that the younger Tates had good odds of living.
But later, in the early evening, she was again sobbing after hearing more details: One of her grandparents had apparently died in the crash and the other was still alive but wouldn't leave the spouse.
So, for the Tate relatives who remain in Lodi, it's a combination of questions about the crash details, optimism for the survivors and grief for the grandparents.
A newspaper still rested on their grandparents' door step Tuesday, and a neighbor said it was unusual to not see the white-haired man who lived there.
The couple married on New Year's Day in 1956, Pimentel said, and went everywhere together. She and the other two granddaughters laughed when recalling how Loretta Tate mentioned that Sean Connery was handsome and Kenneth Tate was a bit jealous.
"They were so in love," Pimentel said.
Her sister, Jennifer Tate, finished the sentence: "And they were never apart."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.