A Texas man died after he mockingly took a late-night swim in an alligator-infested marina close to the Louisiana border. Against verbal warnings and signs that cautioned against swimming in the area, Tommie Woodward jumped into the water — and almost immediately started calling for help. An eyewitness who knew the man saw him dragged underwater a couple times before he disappeared altogether.
CBS news reported July 3 that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were called to Burkart’s Marina early Friday morning after reports that 28-year-old Tommie Woodward and an unidentified woman went swimming in a bayou and had subsequently suffered being attacked by an alligator. Sheriff’s deputies and a Texas game warden found Woodward’s body roughly 200 yards away after about two hours of searching.
Although police originally thought the man was swimming with a woman, Justice of the Peace Rodney Price told KFDM-TV in Beaumont that the woman, who had been on a dock at the marina, only jumped into the water after the man screamed for help. KFDM-TV also reported that witnesses said they had seen the man and woman at a bar at the marina right before the attack.
“One minute he’s there and then the next minute he’s gone,” Michelle Wright, who works in the restaurant at the marina, told KFDM-TV in a separate report. “I asked him please do not go swimming, there’s a bigger alligator out here, just please stay out of the water.”
A 10-foot alligator had been spotted in the bayou the week before. Signs had been posted soon afterward.
Price said Woodward ignored both the verbal warnings and the posted “No Swimming Alligators” sign. He also seemed to mock the reptiles before going in the water. “He removed his shirt, removed his billfold,” he said, “someone shouted a warning and he said ‘blank the alligators’ and jumped in to the water and almost immediately yelled for help.”
In her retelling of the incident, Wright said, “Next thing I know this girl is screaming an alligators got him, an alligator’s got him and I grab a flashlight trying to zoom it over the water, trying to find him. The next thing I know, I don’t even know how long it was, I saw his body floating face down and then he’s up there for a couple seconds and then he gets dragged back down and pulled off.”
The unidentified woman was uninjured. She said later that she thought she felt the brush of the alligator’s while she was in the water.
Although alligator attacks in Florida are common, Gator Country owner Gary Saurage told KFDM-TV that it was the first fatal alligator attack in Texas that he knows of this year. Texas state Game Warden Mike Boone told the station it was the first fatal attack he knows of in Texas and he’s been a Game Warden more than 22 years. After the Houston Chronicle dug into gator attack history, it found that the bayou attack marks the first one in almost 200 years, when a man was killed near the Trinity River in 1836.