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Father hopes his grief can prevent more

Ten months later, the tears still come easily for Michael Scalzi. Saying the name Alexis, looking at her picture, even uttering the words "that day" will do it.

"It's on our minds every minute," he said. "We think of Alexis all the time."

Alexis Scalzi was a couple of months past her second birthday when she drowned after falling into the family's in-ground pool. Michael found her and called 911, but it was too late to save her.

It is a tragically familiar tale that became even more so last summer when four people drowned in two months, three of them small children and all of them in the East Amherst/Clarence area where the Scalzis live.

Michael and Michelle Scalzi live a nightmare every day. That's why they have devoted themselves to the hope that no one else will ever know exactly how they feel.

Sunday, nearly 700 people paid $20 apiece and came to Samuel's Grande Manor to be a part of "Lexi's Legacy," an auction fundraiser organized by the Scalzis with an assist from Gary Pools & Leisure, the American Red Cross, dozens of other businesses, and hundreds of friends and family members.

The money raised during the event is being used to purchase pool alarms, simple devices that work like a sump pump and emit a loud, shrill sound when anything that weighs 15 pounds or more goes into a pool. As of December, state building codes require that all new pools be equipped with the alarms.

After his daughter's death, Michael Scalzi said, someone asked him whether he had one of the alarms. Not only did he not have one, he had never heard of them. So he went to Gary Pools with an idea that he could buy some and give them to anyone who needed them. General manager Todd Schupbach took that idea one better: He agreed to donate 1,000 of the aboveground pool alarms.

Schupbach, who said he seems to end up in the newspaper and on television every year as a pool safety expert after a drowning, jumped at the chance to do something to prevent one.

To the Scalzis, that donation was a good start, but they wanted to do more. They began soliciting donations from hundreds of businesses to see whether they could raise more money to buy alarms for in-ground pools such as theirs. Soon, their living room was full of gift baskets, containing donated items including a cruise, a trip to Las Vegas and autographed Sabres memorabilia. Even the space at Samuel's was donated.

"It's unbelievable," Michael Scalzi said.

The pool alarms will be available at Gary Pools, and anyone who wants one can have it for free. But there is a catch: proof that the recipient has completed a CPR training course.

"I tried giving CPR that day, and maybe if I would have known the right way, I could have done something," Michael Scalzi said. "That's why it's very important to me that everyone knows it."

Schupbach said that anyone who is certified in CPR will be able to provide that proof to the Scalzis, and they, in turn, will give them a ticket that can be redeemed at Gary Pools until the alarms are gone.

His campaign has created a strange existence for Michael Scalzi. Beating the drum for public awareness of pool alarms and CPR training has meant constantly reliving his daughter's death and the painful realization that if he had had either, she might still be alive today. That, he said, seems like a small price to pay.

"It does help," he said. "It's good therapy for us . . . talking about what happened to Alexis to prevent this from happening again."

e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com

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