Deaths of man, beast preventable

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ORANGE — Two recent fatalities could have been prevented.

Tommie Woodward, 28, died while swimming in the bayou Friday, at Burkart’s Marina, 1802 Mississippi in Orange.

Woodward jumped into the water at 2:34 a.m. to swim when an 11-foot 2-inch alligator weighing approximately 400 pounds pulled Woodward under the water.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Game Warden were requested to the scene for a search and rescue for Woodward.

Woodard’s body was located approximately half a mile from the marina at 4:30 a.m.

Swimming was prohibited in the area according to posted signs.

An alligator at the same location was shot on Monday. Autopsy on the animal revealed it is the same alligator involved in the attack.

“There are two type of alligators, wild and handfed,” Gary Saurage, owner of Gator County said. “Do not feed an alligator. Just one time and it will lose it’s fear of humans.”

Except when engaged in hunting, it is against the law to intentionally feed a free-ranging alligator according to Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

“Feeding an alligator at the dock, they see it as free food,” Saurage said. “The worse thing you can do to an alligator is to feed it.”

An alligator cannot distinguish between the food on one’s hand and the person’s wrist according to Saurage.

Alligators overcome their natural shyness and become accustomed or attracted to humans when fed. It is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, to intentionally feed an alligator according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

“This incident is horrible for the family and horrible for the alligator,” Saurage said. “We as a community need to make sure it does not happen again. Let Parks and Wildlife send a nuisance alligator hunter.”

The current legal definition of a nuisance gator is “an alligator that is depredating [killing livestock or pets] or a threat to human health or safety” under definitions laid out in the Texas Administrative Code (Title 31, Part 2, Chapter 65, Section 65.352). The following information should help one determine if the observed alligator may pose a threat to you or your property. If, after reading the following, one determines that an alligator is a “nuisance,” contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement communications center in La Porte at (281) 842-8100 or in Austin at (512) 389-4848.

“Feeding alligators has to stop,” Saurage said. “I see it everyday. They will eat the chicken off the crab lines. We caught one with three crab lines hanging out of it’s mouth. An average crab line is 10 feet. That means there is only 10 feet between that person, whether they are a three-year old or an adult, there is only 10 feet between the person and the alligator.”

Saurage said he has seen restaurants where it is encouraged to feed an alligator.

“It has to stop,” Saurage said. “A man lost two fingers feeding an alligator that way. It could have been his wrist.”