It was supposed to be a fun-filled Sunday on the Delta in Rio Vista.
Eleven-year-old Maria Avila and her five-year-old sister, Sophie, were swimming and fishing with their parents. But when the afternoon waters turned choppy from boats and jet skis, Maria watched in horror as her father’s kayak, carrying him and Sophie, flipped on top of them.
“I still don’t want to believe it. I really don’t wanna – I want this all to be just a dream. But it’s not.”
Maria said Sophie and her father, Roni, were not wearing lifejackets but her dad was an experienced swimmer and pulled Sophie up to the surface. A jet skier came by to help.
“This jet ski came, and he got my sister and my uncle told the person with the jet ski, he said, ‘Save my brother, too!’”
But Roni never made it out. Park officials say the current is known for sucking people under – and the water, 50-feet deep, is overgrown with weeds. Roni‘s body wasn’t found until eight-and-a-half hours later.
“They said that he wasn’t alive anymore.”
Maria’s mother, Maribel, was too distraught to talk to us, but Maria bravely spoke. She said now the river haunts her family.
“We don’t want to go back to the water no more. We just…that’s a bad memory for us now, and we can’t bring him back.”
The last photo taken of the Avilas and Maria’s uncle was at an ice cream shop near the river.
“He has always been a good dad. He worked hard for us. He didn’t give up on his job. He works on construction and scaffolding and even if he had to stay extra hours, he did it for us just so that we could have fun on the weekends, and I really appreciate what he did for us.”
The family has created a GoFundMe account to help pay for funeral expenses. Maria says, although many family members would like to bury her father in his homeland of Guatemala, she’d like him to stay in San Francisco.
“If we bury him here, I will be able to see him every day.”