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Gator attacks hit Pinellas

A woman found in an East Lake canal is the county’s first gator death.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY and NICOLE JOHNSON
Published May 14, 2006



Normally docile Florida alligators were blamed Sunday in two deaths, bringing the state’s total to three people in one week.

Pinellas County’s first alligator death was recorded Sunday when the body of a woman was found in an East Lake canal.

Also Sunday, friends pried the body of a Tennessee woman from the jaws of an alligator in Juniper Run in Ocala National Forest. She was attacked Sunday afternoon while snorkeling.

These followed the death Tuesday of a woman in Broward County who authorities think was killed on land and dragged into the water by a 400-pound gator.In Pinellas, the body of Judy W. Cooper, 43, was found in the East Lake Woodlands area, authorities said.Kelly Ferderber, 45, first saw the body Friday but thought it was garbage floating behind her home at 370 Palm Dale Drive.
 

Sunday morning, her daughter, Ashley, 18, and son, Evan, 16, went to check out the floating mass.
They used a boat pole to pull it closer. Then they saw a brown ponytail, a white ear, blue jeans with the pockets sticking out, a dark sneaker. The body’s arms were missing.

“I found out it was real and I freaked out,” Ashley said.

The medical examiner said the alligator “did play some part in the victim’s death.” The official cause of death will not be available for several weeks.

Gary Goodrich, Cooper’s brother-in-law, said officials told them her purse was found near the water. “They don’t know how she died. They know there was drugs involved. They found drugs at the scene,” Goodrich said. “I guess she had rolled in the water. The alligator got her and took both her arms and part of her back.”

 The medical examiner’s office found no obvious trauma that would have been a result of a homicide.
Her last known address was 2612 Colony Drive in Dunedin, Bordner said, but Joe Worel, 59, who has been living at that address since 1993, said he has never heard of her.

Traps — chicken parts concealing a stout hook — were put over the canal Sunday by Charles Carpenter, who was contracted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to catch alligators.

Carpenter said he set a trap where Cooper’s body was found and another one two blocks away, where he spotted an alligator that he was unable to catch.

“If we do find for sure an alligator was involved and it was an attack, that controls how many alligators we can take out,” he said.

In the Marion attack, an alligator seized a 23-year-old woman who had been staying at a secluded cabin near a springhead that feeds into Lake George, said county Fire-Rescue Capt. Joe Amigliore.

About 5 p.m. friends found Annmarie Campbell of Paris, Tenn., dead in the jaws of an alligator.

The four had been snorkeling in about 3 feet of water when Campbell and friend Jackie Barrett of Silver Springs were separated from friends Mark Barrett of Silver Springs and James Edward of Satellite Beach.

Jackie Barrett couldn’t find Campbell in the water so she went back to the cabin. She then yelled to the men to look for Campbell.

When the men found her in the alligator’s jaws, they gouged its eyes and pounded on its snout with their hands, said FWC spokeswoman Kat Kelley. One of the people in the party ran about a mile from the cabin to State Road 19 where they could get cell-phone reception and called 911, Kelley said.

“I understand they were gouging at eyes and trying to pry open the jaws,” Kelley said. “These people are pretty much in shock. The guys had cuts or scrapes on their hands.”

Authorities were searching for the alligator Sunday night.

The earlier death was in Broward County, a 400-pound, 9-foot-6-inch alligator was caught Saturday with the arms of 28-year-old Yovy Suarez Jimenez in its belly.

Jimenez’s body was found days earlier near her mobile home in Sunrise, near Fort Lauderdale. Authorities think she had been jogging when she was attacked.

And in Punta Gorda, a 74-year-old woman managed to fend off a 5-foot alligator that attacked her last week while she worked in her garden.

Alligators become more aggressive from late May to August, a period that marks the creatures’ courting, mating and nesting season, experts say.

“This is a period of higher activity,” Morse said. “And they start feeding more this time of year.”

Still, Sunday’s attack was shocking to those who study the creatures. Fatal alligator attacks are rare in Florida, with only 18 recorded since 1948, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“I would call it rare,” said Ed Froehlich, an alligator farmer in Christmas. ”You’ll get one or two a year maybe, but that’s a lot.”

In the last decade, the Wildlife Commission has worked to maintain the alligator population statewide, Morse said.

“We’ve done a good job of protecting alligators and people,” Morse said. ”But it’s a difficult balancing act
“The balancing act involves protecting a predator that is fairly common in the state. And also protecting people coming in more contact with the animals because of development.”

The East Lake Canal, where Cooper was found, has a sizable alligator population, Morse said. Currently that number may have grown, since alligators tend to flock to areas with more water during a dry season.

Overall, the Woodland area has not been a trouble spot for residents, Morse said, noting that alligators do not tend to attack unless provoked.

Froehlich agreed.

“I’d say 95 percent of the time when something happens it’s the person’s fault, not the alligator, not normally do alligators come out of the water and attack.” he said. “There are places you should not be in, but people don’t have enough awareness of these places.”

When there is a fatal alligator attack, a state hires a trapper to catch and kill it because one attack tends to lead to another.

“It’ll happen again,” said Robert Collins, who works as a trapper in Osceola County. “They’re pretty smart, if they find out it’s easy preying on people, especially if they’re an old alligator, they may try it again.”

Information from the Associated Press and the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

[Last modified May 14, 2006, 23:56:49]


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