By Shelby R. King
Alysha Sarai Colvin, 37, was taking pottery classes and loved to cook. She painted watercolor landscapes and enjoyed camping and swimming. She was most comfortable outdoors and felt a deep connection to the earth.
“She dreamed of selling her pottery and wanted to write a cookbook with watercolor drawings in it,” said her cousin, Gabrielle Stevens. “Alysha had the ability to light up a room and make people feel like her smile was all she needed.”
Colvin moved to Bend from Wisconsin in 1997 to pursue her passion for snowboarding and hiking. She frequently visited Stevens at her home in California.
“We were more like sisters than cousins,” Stevens said.
On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the day Colvin was scheduled to be arraigned in Deschutes County Circuit Court after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants for the fourth time, her body was found in Pioneer Park. She died of a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Her tale is one of a woman with demons that no one could quite get a handle on.
Colvin got her first DUII in 2001, her second in 2008 and her third one on Halloween night in 2010 while on her way to California to visit her cousin.
This November, Colvin was stopped by Bend Police Officer Kecia Weaver around 11 a.m. Her ex-boyfriend, Patrick O’Toole, said her blood alcohol level registered at .25, more than three times the legal limit to operate a vehicle.
“She used to drink and drive all the time,” Stevens said. “She would drink and then she would call me and cry to me, ‘Why can’t I stop?’”
Colvin first went to rehab when she was 17, according to her mom, Naomi Cummings. She checked into court-ordered residential treatment in 2008 after getting her second DUII. In March of this year, Colvin went through detox and tried to get into rehab again, but the facility had a waiting list, Cummings said.
“The issue with most folks, by the time they’re getting into a residential situation is that there is so much social wreckage for them to deal with,” said Dennis Crowell, a program director at BestCare Treatment Services in Redmond. “They’re dealing with the social wreckage, repairing strange relationships, job and money issues. It can feel hopeless and overwhelming.”
Colvin was arrested and charged with felony DUII on Nov. 9. Oregon law states if a person is convicted of three DUIIs within a 10-year span, the third will be charged as a felony and the conviction can carry a prison sentence. Stevens said Colvin did not want to be sent to prison. Her friend, Andrew Plunkett, said Colvin had also expressed to him that she dreaded serving time in prison.
“You could tell within 10 seconds of being around her if she was drinking or not,” Plunkett said. “When she wasn’t drinking and was at peace, she was the most peaceful person you’d ever know. But if she was in chaos it was, well, it was very chaotic.”
When Colvin met O’Toole, she was in one of those peaceful places. The two dated for 21/2 years and were in the process of breaking up when Colvin committed suicide. When they met, she was taking classes and wasn’t drinking, he said. But not long after they met, a friend of Colvin’s committed suicide, which seemed to trigger a relapse.
“The most significant predictor of a relapse is stress,” Crowell said. “People leaving treatment need to create a support system and create a sober living system. We encourage our clients not to get in a relationship for quite awhile after leaving treatment.”
Crowell said his counselors tell clients to first get a plant. If they’re able to keep the plant alive, they can get a pet. If they’re able to keep a pet alive, they’re probably ready for a relationship.
“Having a relationship can get confusing because they’re creating a new situation without alcohol,” Crowell said. “It can change the focus from working on recovery.”
Colvin met Plunkett while participating in court-ordered rehab at BestCare. The two became friends during treatment, and stayed friends in the following years. Plunkett no longer lives in Bend, but visits his father here. He came to town recently for the Thanksgiving holiday and had lunch with Colvin at Summit Saloon.
“I knew she was in bad shape. She was really sad and talked about killing herself,” Plunkett said. “I told her she was talking about a really permanent solution to a really temporary problem. She laughed at me because those are the same words they use in treatment and she didn’t want to hear it.”
Plunkett said Colvin was drinking at lunch that day. He said she told him she’d recently bought a gun, but then denied having one when he became alarmed.
“She was talking in riddles. She tried to get me to come to her house with her after lunch and now I wish I had,” Plunkett said. “This wasn’t the first time she’d threatened to do it and maybe I grew cold to it. In my mind I was thinking she was just crying for attention.”
Still, Plunkett called Stevens after lunch because he was worried about Colvin. He said Stevens assured him Colvin wouldn’t harm herself.
Crowell said it’s not unusual for friends and family members to feel like Plunkett and Stevens did when Colvin repeatedly threatened suicide.
“That’s often what happens. They think, ‘Oh, this is just one more time they’re going to cry wolf,’” he said. “But any time I hear someone say they’ve got alcohol or intoxicants and a loaded gun in the same place my antenna always goes up.”
Colvin’s family members were worried about her, and didn’t want her to be alone in Bend. On Nov. 29, Colvin was supposed to fly to Wisconsin to visit her mother, but she didn’t get on the plane. When she didn’t show up, Cummings called 911 and asked that the police do a welfare check on her daughter.
According to documents from Deschutes County 911, Cummings told dispatchers Colvin was suicidal and had possibly purchased a gun. Responding officers were able to enter Colvin’s home after contacting O’Toole. The couple were in the process of breaking up due to Colvin’s excessive drinking, O’Toole said. He had recently moved out but still had access to the apartment. Colvin was asleep when O’Toole let the police in.
“She was completely wasted,” O’Toole said. “I had a hard time even understanding what she was saying and the officer said he could hardly understand her.”
Stevens said the family was disappointed Colvin wasn’t taken into custody that night since she’d threatened to harm herself and said she had a gun. The responding officer asked Colvin if she was suicidal, O’Toole said. She replied she was not. Because Colvin refused help, the officers had no choice but to leave, according to Bend Police Capt. Cory Darling.
“Under Oregon state laws, the only way a person can be taken into custody is if they are an immediate danger to themselves or others, and that’s a pretty high criteria to meet,” he said. “We can do everything possible to help them, but if they’re in their own home, are intoxicated and don’t meet the criteria, we cannot take them into custody. People have civil rights.”
Darling said Colvin was well-known by some officers, and O’Toole said the police had been to their home before when she would threaten suicide or become drunk and violent.
Colvin’s family and friends are also concerned that she was released from custody after being arrested and charged with her fourth DUII.
“I thought it would be a blessing for her to actually be in jail because she could be sober long enough to detox,” Stevens said. “Her family wasn’t going to bail her out, but she didn’t have to pay any bail and they didn’t even impound her car. They gave car keys back to a person facing felony charges.”
O’Toole said when Colvin was released, she walked from the jail to her car and immediately drove to a bar.
According to Deschutes County Lt. Terese Jones, when Colvin was arrested on Nov. 9 she was booked into the jail at approximately 1 p.m., and was released on her own recognizance at 8:20 p.m.
“It’s standard that release authorization is given by the presiding judge and the judge dictates that to the jail,” Jones said. “She met our release criteria and was not required to post bail.”
Though the authorities followed procedure, Stevens feels like Colvin slipped through the cracks.
“The system broke down and I feel like they failed her,” she said. “She was not a nobody. She was hurting so long and was so tired. The only thing that makes me feel better is that she is finally at peace.”
Colvin’s mother said she wishes law enforcement would have installed a Breathalyzer in Colvin’s car to keep her from drinking and driving. She said she thinks it’s important to talk about what happened so hopefully other people struggling and in pain do not end up like Colvin.
“I think depression and addiction affects so many people’s lives,” Cummings said. “The only way to keep it from happening is to be open and not hide it.”