Gator Attack Way Too Close to Home

This past Monday, Diane was out house-hunting. She checked out a listing for a house that was interesting in part because it was close to a park. After looking at the house, Diane went over to the park to have a look at it, too. This was Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, near I-275 and Gandy Boulevard. She took Ritka, our Vizsla, walking with her. Diane and Ritka were near the water’s edge at about 4:30 PM when Diane saw the water churn. She immediately called to Ritka and started moving away from the water. Ritka’s usual behavior is to run ahead, and that’s just what Ritka did. Diane, though, slipped on the slope and fell to her hands and knees, perhaps in part due to the slip-on “Crocs”-like shoes she was wearing at the time. The churning water was, indeed, a sign of a gator making a lunge, coming out of the water. The gator didn’t connect with anything on his first lunge, but he grabbed Diane’s left calf with his second lunge.

Diane turned and grabbed the gator’s jaw to discourage it from ripping her calf muscle. The gator then released her calf, but when it snapped its jaws shut the second time, Diane’s left thumb was caught there by a tooth. She says that she didn’t care to play tug with a gator, not with just her thumb as the part in the middle. She reached over with her right hand and grabbed the gator’s eye ridge. Diane says that after maybe 30 seconds to a minute of this standoff, the gator opened his jaws, releasing Diane’s thumb. Diane released the gator’s eye ridge. She says that she briefly had considered trying to hold the gator’s jaws closed and using Ritka’s leash to tie it up, but that she didn’t think that she was up to any more tussling with the gator. So the gator headed back to the water and Diane on up the bank and away.

Diane then went back to the van with Ritka, and called to find out about where the nearest medical facility that would treat a gator bite and take our insurance for payment was. She then drove there, to the Morton Plant Bardmoor emergency facility at Starkey and Bryan Dairy Road. Her parents and then I caught up with her there. Her bite wounds were cleaned and dressed, and somewhere around there she had a bout of nausea, sometime about two hours post-attack. The medical staff gave her IV anti-nausea medicine, morphine, and then Vancomycin. They decided she should have observation for the next 24 hours, so they arranged for admittance at Morton Plant Mease in Clearwater. On Tuesday, she received more anitbiotics, since gator bites almost always get infected, and the infections can themselves be fatal. The principal pathogen to be countered is apparently Aeromonas hydrophila. Two orthopedic surgeons had a look and concurred that she would not need surgery. Diane was discharged around 5 PM on Tuesday.

Diane has a couple of weeks of oral antibiotics to continue with, plus twice-daily changes of the wound dressings. We are watching for fever or any sign of infection in the wounds, but so far she is doing fine. She is sleeping a good chunk of the day. That is, when the reporters will leave her alone. She has marks from about two dozen gator teeth on her calf, ranging from scratches through scrapes, tears, and full punctures. She has a pretty big puncture on her left thumb. She had some cuts and abrasions on her right hand.

A second nuisance complaint from the same park was called in Wednesday. A trapper went out and found a gator that had no fear of people at the site of Diane’s attack. He measured it at 6′ 9″ and noted that it was missing about a foot of tail, making it overall about an eight-footer. In looking at past records of fatal attacks, those have been done by gators as small as 6′ 6″. Diane was very fortunate to have come out of this with as little damage as she did.

Here’s some of the coverage of Diane’s story so far:

BayNews 9, with video of their broadcast

The Lakeland Ledger

St. Petersburg Times. This one is slightly inaccurate in places, but was filed before Harwell did an in-person interview with Diane, so we are hoping for a better article later.

Diane says that she wouldn’t mind going to an alligator-free place for a while, so please go vote for our bid to blog an Antarctic trip next February.

Update: ABC News has taken the story to the national audience. Fox News had a segment, but I don’t know if that was regional or national.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

17 thoughts on “Gator Attack Way Too Close to Home

  • 2009/09/25 at 7:34 pm
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    Wow – that’s really scary. It’s also an amazing story. I really admire Diane for how well she did under pressure like that. You both have my best wishes.

  • 2009/09/25 at 9:07 pm
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    FOX segment is national– It was on the OKC local news. Wish Id ‘met’ your wife under different circumstances… :/

  • 2009/09/25 at 9:48 pm
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    Thanks for the sighting report.

    If you come to the Florida west coast or central Florida, let’s make sure to meet up.

  • 2009/09/25 at 10:52 pm
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    Glad to hear that Diane is doing well, see what happens when you don’t pay your weekly homiage to the “GATORS”. PS Emily says “Hi Gator Bate” (LOL)

  • 2009/09/26 at 8:05 am
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    Whew! I’m very glad and impressed that Diane handled the animal so competently! How close to the water was she walking? How far out of the water did the alligator come to grab her?

    Alligators usually eat fish and avoid animals like us that look large due to our height. But feeding them could lead them to associate us with food, so don’t do it. It’s against the law as well. Keep pets out of the water. Another friend of mine lost her German Shepard to a gator when they were out for a morning walk along a canal near a lake. The dog wasn’t even swimming, it was just at the water’s edge.

    Stay cool Diane!

  • 2009/09/26 at 11:07 am
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    OUCH! Those wounds look painful. I hope and pray Diane will heal up quickly and completely. Why didn’t the dog go after the gator? Did she realize that Diane was caught?

  • 2009/09/26 at 11:23 am
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    Brava Diane! Many (or most) people would have lacked the courage and intelligence to successfully deal with this. I hope you have a speedy recovery. (Maybe ‘gattor steak is good for you)?

  • 2009/09/27 at 2:48 pm
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    Such amazing presence of mind deserves nothing but the fullest admiration. I offer my very best wishes for a swift recovery.

    Not many folks get tested under such circumstances and I canít help thinking how I would have reacted. However, to my great good fortune, such an eventuality is unlikely as the nearest alligator to me here is probably in London Zoo.

    Best wishes to you and yours from a long time lurker.

  • 2009/09/27 at 3:30 pm
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    I guess you can now add “gator” to the thinks that Ritka has flushed. Too bad Rusty wasn’t there to finish the kill.

    CNN has a video about the events on the front page of their website today. Those bites look painsome.

  • 2009/09/28 at 1:03 pm
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    What a horrifying experience, kudos to Diane for the way she responded and dealt with both the attack and getting the right medical attention. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery followed later by an Antarctic trip… though having experienced the driving rain and gales over the hills here yesterday, it may come as a bit of a shock after Florida! Best wishes to both of you.

  • 2009/10/01 at 12:28 pm
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    We were shocked to hear about Diane’s close call. Glad her biological knowledge and cool head prevailed.

  • 2009/10/02 at 7:07 pm
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    How is Diane doing now?

  • 2009/10/02 at 8:16 pm
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    She has days where she hardly takes note of the injuries and others, like today, where she is too tired for much activity. The wounds seem to be healing up fine, and she has exhibited no signs of infection so far. I think that she is doing fine so far.

  • 2009/10/05 at 9:40 pm
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    I’m glad she’s doing okay and didn’t get an infection. That sounds like it would be nasty!

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