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Deputies free man from gator's grip

Published November 30, 2006

Trappers, from left, Scot Barbon, John Wilson and Dallas Haynie capture a nearly 12-foot alligator in Lake Parker in Lakeland.
[AP photo]

LAKELAND - Adrian J. Apgar can be thankful Carlos Mayid heard his cries for help Wednesday morning.

About 3:45 a.m. at his home on United Drive, Mayid heard faint sounds of screaming from nearby Lake Parker. Grabbing his cell phone and flashlight, he walked toward the voice. Nearing the shore and realizing a man was in the dark lake, he called 911.

"I asked him what was wrong and he said, 'A gator got me,' " Mayid said.

For the next 15 to 20 minutes, four Polk County deputies wrestled Apgar from the alligator's jaws and took him to safety.

Apgar, a 45-year-old Polk City truck driver, told deputies he had been smoking crack cocaine. The attack nearly severed his left arm. His right arm was broken. He also suffered bites in the buttocks and an upper leg.

He was in critical condition Wednesday night at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The rescue was a life-and-death struggle between the deputies and the alligator, with Apgar in the middle.

Deputy Billy Osborne was the first to charge into a thicket of cattails and muddy water. "The man was yelling 'Help!' He said he had two broken arms and the alligator had him pinned," Osborne said.

Fifteen to 20 feet from shore, in chest-high water, the deputy spotted Apgar. "He was crouched down and he said he felt another gator in the water," Osborne said.

At that point, Deputy Michael Parker waded through the water to get near the gator, but it started to thrash around.

The deputies said their first instinct was to shoot the big reptile. But "when it started thrashing we couldn't get a good shot and the man was in the line of fire," Osborne said.

A third deputy, David Clements, arrived and radioed back that they needed more deputies, an ambulance and a helicopter.

Apgar's screams were silenced briefly when the alligator barreled into the water. His rescuers feared the worst, but Apgar's screaming resumed after 10 or 20 seconds.

The alligator's grip loosened moments later, and the deputies pulled Apgar away.

Mayid, who first heard Apgar's cries, said the deputies were "filthy, muddy, out of breath and exhausted."

Wednesday afternoon, trappers caught a 450-pound, nearly 12-foot alligator in the lake, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The deputies said they were only doing their job when they jumped into the lake.

Their boss disagreed.

"They may not call themselves heroes, but I will," Judd said.

[Last modified November 30, 2006, 00:40:18]

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