Child clings to life after swing set collapses

The 2-year-old was swinging in a park in Manatee County.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 11, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Sarah Parkinson sang Jesus Loves Me to her daughter Lexi when she was still nestled in the womb.

She sang the same song as Lexi toddled around the house or giggled while riding swings in parks.

Now, Parkinson sings Jesus Loves Me at her 2-year-old daughter's bed in All Children's Hospital, praying for some flicker of recognition, some sign that her daughter can recover just a little from a horrific brain injury.

A swing set in a civic association park collapsed on Lexi Antorino on Sunday in Manatee County while she was in a baby-harnessed swing seat. The force of the blow broke a bone in her neck, cracked her skull and sent shards of bone into her brain.

Her parents say she's in "very critical condition" with no brain activity.

"It's a miracle she even survived the night," said Parkinson, 21 and seven months pregnant, on Monday at a news conference in the hospital lobby.

Parkinson stopped speaking at times to wipe away tears. Nicholas Antorino, 22, her fiance and Lexi's father, also wept.

They're high school sweethearts. Parkinson works as a maid and Antorino is taking classes in air-conditioning repair. They live in Palmetto, in Manatee County, and didn't imagine anything like this when Lexi woke them up Sunday by scampering onto their bed.

"It's nobody's fault," Parkinson said. "It's nobody's fault at all."

Authorities say shoddy assembly of the swing set was the likely culprit, though they are still investigating.

Someone who maintains the park in the Palmetto Point Civic Association had taken apart the swing set, said Randy Warren, an assistant public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Neighbors and other residents agitated for it to be put back together, and someone - it isn't clear who - recently put the swing set back together, Warren said.

"It appears that it was not completely bolted together securely, and it may have been done by someone who may not have known what they were doing," Warren said.

It is unclear who manufactured the swing set or when it was last inspected. The Palmetto Point Civic Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Playground accidents are common. The National Recreation and Park Association estimates that there are 205,850 park-related injuries every year, and that about 15 children die each year because of playground incidents.

Parkinson and Antorino had left Lexi with a teenage relative Sunday because they were going to her grandparents' home to decorate a Christmas tree. They couldn't take Lexi along because her grandfather has cancer, and Lexi had recently come down with a cold.

The babysitter took Lexi and two other kids to a civic association park near the teenager's home Sunday afternoon. As Lexi was swinging, the set collapsed.

Parkinson said Lexi loves to ride swings, but that she had never taken her daughter to the civic association park before. After the collapse, someone performed CPR on her daughter while waiting for rescue workers.

The family has been at Lexi's bedside since Sunday.

Parkinson said she sings to Lexi and talks to her. She begs her to wake up. She prays.

"I say, 'Please, wake up, please? Mommy and Daddy are here,'" Parkinson said.

Lexi remains silent. They remember how rambunctious she used to be, how she talked and laughed and threw temper tantrums. She recently rubbed her mom's belly to say hi to her little brother, Nicholas Jr.

Antorino, her father, shook his head as his wife described their little girl.

Then, he said: "Nobody expects a swing set to fall."

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report, which contains material from the Bradenton Herald. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.