WYANDOTTE, Okla. — Cathy Collins remembers every detail of August 19, 2010. Not only are the memories etched in her mind, but they are embedded in her soul.
“You don’t forget the day your daughter dies,” Collins said in her only interview since her daughter Alyssa Avila was killed on the second day of school.
Alyssa was a fourth-grader at Wyandotte Elementary School.
It was a typical hot Oklahoma day.
Nine-year-old Alyssa and her classmates were playing on the school’s new playground equipment. In a bizarre playground accident, Alyssa’s young life was struck down by a 400-pound teeter-totter called the X-Wave.
“The last time I saw my beautiful daughter was 7:30 a.m.,” Collins said.
Alyssa was so excited, she just loved school, she said.
“I waited on the porch with her for the bus and I remember her smiles and excitement,” Blair said. “That’s how I always want to remember her.”
That morning Alyssa was also talking about the new “toy” the school had and that she wanted to play on, the X-Wave.
Blair said she had no idea what the X-Wave was but has since grown to despise the teeter-totter apparatus.
“Alyssa was excited about it,” Blair said.
During recess, all of Alyssa’s classmates were gathered around the newest addition to the playground. The X-Wave consisted of three steel parts put together and could hold up to 20 children.
Alyssa and several children were on the X-Wave when Alyssa fell from a section of the X-Wave that was in the air; when she stood up to get back on, she was hit in the head as that section was coming down.
The child was taken from the school in full cardiac arrest and died at a Miami hospital. An autopsy showed Alyssa’s death likely was a severe concussion.
The memories of the phone call from the school – rushing to the school- seeing the ambulance – the helicopter – has never left Collins’ memory.
“When I got to the school I ran onto the playground screaming ‘is she okay?’ and everybody just had this awful look on their faces and they wouldn’t say anything,” Collins said.
“I waited for two hours for the doctor,” Blair said. “He came in and said Alyssa had received a severe head injury and he couldn’t keep her heart beating and there was nothing more they could do.”
With tears streaming down her face and her heart tearing in two, Collins begged the doctor to keep trying to save her little girl’s life.
“He said they maxed out on everything they could and there was nothing else they could do,” Collins said.
It took 12 years for Collins to publically talk about her feelings of leaving the hospital that August day without Alyssa and knowing her youngest child was dead and she would never see her again.
“Walking into the house and seeing her stuff everywhere knowing Alyssa would never see any of those things again and knowing all the things she was going to miss out in life – I just wish I could erase those memories from my heart and mind,” Collins said.
“I just wanted it to be an awful dream,” Collins said.
Collins said she couldn’t bring herself to view her daughter’s body.
“I know some people might not understand that, but I just did not want that image of her being dead in my mind,” Collins said.
Blair said she just wants memories to be of happier times. Alyssa’s first steps, her birthdays, her first day of school and family get-togethers.
Although Wyandotte Schools and other Oklahoma school districts quickly removed the X-Wave from playgrounds across the state after Alyssa’s death, her mother, Collins wanted to protect other children from the deadly machine.
The family filed a civil lawsuit against Xccent Inc., Noah’s Parks and Playground and the Wyandotte School District. Xccent manufactured the X-Wave and Noah’s Parks and Playgrounds, an Edmond-based company, sold it to the school.
The crux of the lawsuit was the X-Wave was defectively designed because it doesn’t shut down or come to a halt if a child falls from it.
The lawsuit was settled in 2013 for an undisclosed amount of money and Xccent Inc., which manufactured commercial recreation equipment, filed for bankruptcy in 2015. The company does not have a current telephone listing.
From 2009 to 2014, the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated 34 deaths associated with playground equipment. Of the 34 investigated deaths, three of those deaths involved a platform, a teeter-totter, and a football sled.