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Originally published May 7, 2013 at 9:36 PM | Page modified May 8, 2013 at 5:53 AM

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Family is reeling from loss of parents

They had been married nearly 55 years, raised two sons and a daughter and had 13 grandkids. On Tuesday, their family dealt with the deaths of Robert and Elizabeth Rotta, the Bellevue couple who died after a Sound Transit bus hit an SUV in which they were passengers in Kirkland.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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They talk about their parents in the present tense. It happens when someone close to you has just unexpectedly died.

Monday night had been a happy time for Robert Rotta, 76, and his wife, Elizabeth, 75, a Bellevue couple who would have been married 55 years this September.

They had just delivered flowers to their daughter-in-law as an early Mother’s Day present. On Wednesday, they were going to Moscow, Idaho, to visit their daughter and celebrate the college graduation of one of her children.

But on Monday night, at about 9:30, everything changed in seconds.

They were the passengers in a 2010 Ford Escape SUV driven by one of their two sons, Ken Rotta, 51, an airline pilot who lives in Kirkland.

He was driving on the Northeast 128th Street overpass in that city, when a Sound Transit bus apparently went through a red light and broadsided the SUV on the passenger side.

Robert Rotta died at the scene. His wife died a few hours later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Ken Rotta suffered a broken rib and multiple cuts and bruises, and was released on Tuesday, says his brother, Phil Rotta, of Bellevue.

It was Phil’s home that his parents had just left. On the way to Harborview, Ken was able to give medics his brother’s phone number to call him.

Phil Rotta says he and his wife jumped in their car and headed for Harborview.

“As I drove, I could see a lot of flashing lights on the viaduct.”

At Harborview, he was told that only two people had been brought in, not three. The ominous became even more so.

The bus, with about 35 passengers aboard, had been exiting I-405.

Several bus passengers called 911 to report the collision and say the bus had not immediately stopped after hitting the SUV. After the crash, at the crest of the uphill exit, the bus rolled downhill a half-mile on a northbound ramp to I-405, the State Patrol reported.

The bus, a 2008 Gillig, was being inspected Tuesday by Patrol investigators.

The bus driver, Aleksander Rukhlin, 54, of Everett, showed no signs of drug or alcohol impairment, but a blood sample was drawn as standard procedure, according to the Patrol.

Rukhlin was questioned Monday night by supervisors and is now on paid administrative leave.

Sound Transit says the agency doesn’t yet know whether the bus’ brakes failed, as has been suggested by the driver.

Phil Rotta says his brother told him what he could remember of the accident: “Somebody yelled, ‘Watch out!’ and then it felt like a big rush of air, with the air bags and everything happening.”

He says he will leave it up to investigators to figure out what happened.

On Tuesday, he and his sister, Renae Meyer, were simply trying to deal with no longer having their parents there.

Meyer and her husband, Matt Meyer, had gone to bed Monday night when the phone call came from Phil.

They drove that night from Idaho to here.

“Maybe when everything quiets down, it’ll hit me harder,” says Renae Meyer. “But being surrounded by family and friends provides an amount of strength.”

She says she has felt no bitterness at being told how the accident happened.

What has helped her deal with it all, she says, is “the foundation that my parents gave us in faith in God and trust.

“God creates life and takes away life. We know that one day we will see them again.”

Phil Rotta says he was at Harborview as his mom died. His brother, Ken, was wheeled in to be next to her.

Their mother was able to talk for about 15 minutes.

“I told her about dad passing away,” says Phil Rotta. “She said, ‘He’s in heaven. I will deeply miss him.’ ”

Phil Rotta told his mom her injuries were life threatening. He says his mom “was at peace.”

As he watched his mom slip away, Phil Rotta told her: “Be sure to greet dad in heaven from all of us.”

The elder Rottas met while attending what now is Seattle Pacific University.

“Mom saw my dad walking by and said, ‘That’s the person I want to invite to Tolo,’” Phil Rotta says.

That’s the dance where girls invite boys.

A few months later, they were married and then raised two sons and a daughter.

Robert Rotta worked for Boeing as an estimator. Elizabeth Rotta was a stay-at-home mom, a volunteer with charitable groups and often spoke at schools and various events about growing up in China. The daughter of missionaries, she was born in China, was fluent in the language and lived there from 1937 until 1949.

“With her blonde hair, she was kind of a novelty,” says Phil Rotta, a Boeing engineer.

In his retirement years, the elder Rotta loved to garden and liked using his computer to put together digital greeting cards showing family events that went to his 13 grandchildren.

Now, with it all that changing in a few moments on a Monday night, the Rotta children are dealing with such matters as a memorial service and taking care of their parents’ Pomeranian, who is now going to Ken Rotta.

“We were very privileged to have had such loving parents,” Phil Rotta says. “They provided us with quite a legacy.”

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com. Times reporter Mike Lindblom and researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

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