San Francisco man dies saving daughter from drowning

RIO VISTA, Calif. (KTVU) - It was supposed to a fun weekend trip in the Sacramento River Delta for a dad and his family but the getaway ended in tragedy with the death of the San Francisco man who perished while trying to save one of his girls from drowning.

Authorities have said Roni Avila, 40, drowned when the kayak he and his daughters were in flipped over on Sunday. Investigators say Avila carried Sophie, his 5-year-old daughter, on his shoulders until a jet skier spotted them and rescued the girl.

Avila went underwater again after his daughter was safe but did not resurface. His body was found later that day.

"I still don't want to believe it. I really don't want to," his daughter, Maria, 11, said through tears. "I want this all to be just a dream, but it's not."

Maria and her sister, Sophie, were swimming and fishing during a family outing to stay cool during blistering heat. When the afternoon waters turned choppy from boats and jet skis, Maria watched in horror from the shore as her father's kayak, carrying him and Sophie flipped on top of them.

The elder daughter said her father and her sister were not wearing life jackets but Avila was an experienced swimmer who was able to pull Sophie up to the surface.

A jet ski rider came by to help and was able to pluck the younger girl from the water. Unfortunately, Avila never resurfaced.

Park officials said the river current is notorious for pulling swimmers under into a river that is at least 50 feet deep and full of overgrown weeds. Avila's body was not recovered until nearly nine hours later.


His family continued to hope that Avila would survive but when they were given the bad news, the daughters were crushed.

"They said that he wasn't alive anymore," Maria said. "We just wanted to get out of there we don't want to go back to the water (any) more, that's a bad memory for us and we can't bring him back."

Maria's aunt told KTVU that last month Avila saw a car on fire on the freeway and he helped pull a woman from inside the burning vehicle by breaking a window. His family said Avila always thought of others first.

Before they began their river trip, the Avilas, including Maria's uncle, had stopped at an ice cream shop and snapped a photo of them sitting at a table together and smiling.


"He has always been a good dad," said Maria. "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 we really appreciate what he did for us."

The family has started a GoFundMe account to help pay for funeral expenses. >>>>>For more information: Click here

Maria said although many family members would like to bury Avila in Guatemala, his homeland, she wants her dad to be buried in San Francisco.

"If we bury him here I will be able to see him every day," she said tearfully.

By KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty. The Associated Press contributed to this report.