State wildlife officials have trapped and killed the alligator suspected of attacking an elderly Lake County woman and biting off her arm.
The alligator, a 7-foot, 5-inch-long male, had taken bait near the canal south of Leesburg where 84-year-old Carol Hough lost her arm, said Lt. Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“The alligator was not at all afraid of humans. It didn't move when we were standing near it,” she said.
An alligator trapper then killed it using a bang stick just after 4 p.m., she said.
Hough remains in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Earlier this morning, Hough was flailing in the middle of a canal behind her home when a neighbor jumped in to help her.
She had only one word to explain what happened to her: “Gator.” Her neighbor, Delmas Zickefoose, then realized her arm was completely gone.
No one knows why Hough was in the water, or how long she had been in there before Zickefoose saw her. But several large gators regularly swim near their homes at the Cypress Creek community, which sits between Lake Harris and Lake Denham, south of Leesburg.
Other neighbors said privately that Hough had a history of being disoriented and might suffer from dementia. She had moved to Florida from Maine after her husband died.
She asked for her late husband, Bob, after Zickefoose found her in the water.
It was dusk, before 7 a.m., when Zickefoose was drinking his morning coffee and looked out his kitchen window to the canal. He saw her flailing and called 911 on his cell phone before jumping into the four-foot-deep water.
He brought her to a sandy shoreline near his house, wrapping his arms around her tiny frame.
“I held her. I just held her, telling her everything would be alright, that rescue was on the way,” Zickefoose said.
Hough was calm and alert, despite the loss of her arm, and only her single utterance, “gator,” offered any clue as to what had happened. “She was not upset, not screaming, as I held her,” he said. She said little, other than asking for her late husband.
But he looked cautiously around them, remembering the large reptiles he's seen nearby. He didn't see any, but he said he was ready to protect them from gators, if there were any.
During the 911 call, Hough is heard talking about the alligator. Zickefoose reassured her, “The gator is not going to bother us.” She responded, “I never thought he was going to,” according to the 911 recording.
A Lake County deputy sheriff arrived and saw a gator at the end of their canal. He tracked it to the adjacent Helena Run, where a wildlife officer tried to shoot it.
Hough was flown to Orlando Regional Medical Center where she underwent surgery and remained in critical condition, Hill said.
It's not known what prompted the attack. Several gator attacks have occurred when people were with their pets, but Hough doesn't have a pet.
Hill said it's likely that the gator had been fed in the past, which made it more comfortable around humans. “It's against the law and it's a very bad idea to feed a gator,” Hill said. “If an alligator gets used to being fed, they become less afraid of humans.”
Still, alligator attacks are less common than dog bites or lightning strikes, she said.
From 2007 to 2011, there were 34 people injured by an alligator and one fatal alligator attack, wildlife officials said. Since 1948, there have been 337 unprovoked gator attacks against humans, including 22 fatalities, according to state records.
In July, Kaleb “Fred” Langdale, 17, of Moore Haven was attacked by a 10-foot alligator while swimming in the Caloosahatchee River west of Lake Okeechobee. He wrestled with the reptile and saved himself by tearing his arm away just below the elbow from the alligator's jaws, he said during a television interview.
Earlier this month, Steve Gustafson of The Villages retirement community north of Leesburg, pulled Bounce, a West Highland terrier, from the jaws of a 7-foot alligator.
In June 2011, a man canoeing with his son survived an alligator attack at Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Zickefoose, who likes to take his pontoon boat out to the local lakes, said he'll be more wary of the canal behind his home. “I'll think twice now about getting into the water,” he said.
“I'm just thankful I was in the right place at the right time. Another five minutes in the water, and I don't think she would have made it,” he said.