FWC official describes gator attack
Capt. Jayson Horadam says tragedy averted.
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COPELAND — Dwain Daniels III taps out a friendly honk on his steering wheel whenever he drives past Margaret Webb’s rural Copeland home and sees her outside, sitting on her porch or tending to her cats.
But when Daniels drove past Wednesday and saw an 8-foot alligator with its jaw clamped down on the 90-year-old’s right leg, he turned around, pulled out a gun, and sprung into action.
“I was going home and I had seen a woman halfway in the water,” Daniels, 30, said. “I kind of panicked myself when I got to her, but we called 911 and got her son, Jim Webb. We carried her out of the water and got help.”
Webb was then flown from her State Road 29 home to Lee Memorial Hospital, where she remained in critical condition Wednesday evening.
“She had a traumatic injury to her leg,” Collier County Sheriff’s Cpl. George Cahill said. “It was almost completely gone.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said Webb was in front of her yellow ranch home near the edge of a canal around 12:30 p.m. when the unprovoked alligator attacked. Daniels, who was driving to Port Charlotte, said the alligator had released Webb from its grip by the time he reached the driveway. He was able to shoot at the gator and pull Webb out of danger.
“It sounds like a tragic fatality probably was averted,” FWC Capt. Jayson Horadam said.
Daniels deflected any congratulations, saying he was shaken by the event yet hopeful for Webb’s recovery.
“She’s the sweetest, strong-willed Christian woman there is. She’s as nice as the day is long,” Daniels said. “Everglades is like family, and it’s nothing I did that anybody else wouldn’t have done.”
Wranglers spent the afternoon and evening at Webb’s home, but were unable to locate the reptile. If the alligator was fatally shot, it could rise to the surface of the 14-foot canal in a few days, Horadam said.
Concerned for their safety, the wranglers didn’t wade into the water beyond the canal’s edges.
“At this point, there is so much debris on the bottom (of the canal) that we decided not to grapple for it,” Horadam said.
Local residents said it wasn’t uncommon for Webb to wander in her yard, though it remains unclear why Webb was near the canal Wednesday. The canal had overflowed due to excessive rain.
Steve Thompson, a distant relative who visits Webb several times per week, often to cut her grass, said Webb likes to pick mangoes from a tree near where she was attacked.
“I always tell her not to do that, but that’s like telling a bird not to sing,” Thompson said. “She’s a resilient lady though. You don’t get to be 90 and not be.”
News of the attack spread through Chokoloskee and Everglades City, where Webb, a longtime resident, preferred the quiet, secluded lifestyle.
“For area residents that have lived here all their lives, they’re still in a state of shock,” said Cahill, an Everglades City-based deputy who responded to the scene.
Five people are bitten each year on average by unprovoked alligators, the FWC reported in 2010, though officials cautioned that gators are dangerous opportunists.
In 1991, Ochopee resident Clara McKay lost her right arm when an alligator attacked as she dipped a bucket in a canal behind her home. Last year, 18-year-old Tim Delano lost his left hand to a 10-foot alligator while swimming in a Golden Gate Estates canal.
“More often than not, we get people bitten by snakes,” Cahill said. “But to have a gator attack of this magnitude is pretty rare.”