As several readers have pointed out, we jinxed it.
On July 2 at 12:51 p.m. we posted an article about how Texas hasn’t suffered a fatal alligator attack since the last days of Mexican dominion in the wet, eventful April of 1836.
But fourteen hours later, tragically, horrifically, the 179-year streak came to an end:
Police in Orange say they responded to a report of an alligator attack at about 2:30 a.m. Friday at Burkart’s Marina on Adams Bayou, off Mississippi Street in Orange.
Police say witnesses at the scene told them a 28-year-old man was attacked by a large alligator. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene with a boat along with a Game Warden from Texas Parks and Wildlife. The man’s body was located at about 4:30 a.m. not far from the area where he was attacked.
More details emerged over the weekend. The last words of the victim, Tommie Woodward, a shipyard worker transplanted from Pacific, Missouri, are for the ages, a situation-specific variation of the punchline “Hold my beer and watch this”:
Employees at the marina had erected the sign in recent days after spotting a “pretty damn big” 11-foot alligator in the area, Orange County Police Captain Robert Enmon told BuzzFeed News.
A woman with Woodward warned him not to enter the water because of the risk, prompting him to reply “F*** that alligator,” Enmon said.
Just before he jumped in, the woman spotted the gator, Enmon said. Woodward was attacked almost immediately.
Police have not yet determined if alcohol played a factor.
On his Facebook memorial page, Woodward was described as an “Avid Beer Connoisseur” who “Loved fishing, swimming, camping, grilling and being outdoors period! Hard Working and helped people even if he had to give them the shirt off his back!!!”
Texas authorities have announced they will not hunt the gator, though it has been reported that a private hunt could be organized. (UPDATE, 8:29 PM July 6: A man who would only identify himself as “Bear” trapped the alligator suspected of involvement in this incident, and then blasted it with a shotgun. “He had to go,” Bear told the Houston Chronicle. “That’s what happens when you kill someone.” Even if someone comes in your house, cusses you out and jumps on your head, apparently…)
My original story was prompted by a near-fatal attack on a father and son in Chambers County. I closed it fretting that a fatal attack seemed inevitable. More Texans, many of them new to the state and lacking respect for the dangers these lizards present, are encroaching on an ever-increasing population of alligators. Right now is an especially dangerous time. The gators are nesting, feeling protective and territorial, and the rains have swept them into new habitats, where they are confused and agitated.
I offered up a few gator safety tips: don’t feed them, back away if they hiss, don’t pick up their babies. I also quoted Houston Chronicle outdoors sage Shannon Tompkins at length, who roughly ten years ago also predicted that it was only a matter of time before the streak ended, and cautioned that you should regard any and all alligators with the same caution and respect you would give to the power of a running chainsaw.
(Photographs from AP [Alligator]; Facebook)