Officials: Alligator that attacked woman 'unprovoked'

By Laurie Davison, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 08, 2014, 9:07 AM EDT

A woman canoeing on the Hillsborough River in Thonotosassa was bitten on the leg by a 6-foot alligator.

According to reports, the incident happened around 1:45 p.m. near John Sargeant Park located at 12702 U.S. 301.

The victim was identified as 20-year-old Andrea Reece, of Uniontown, Ohio, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"At this point, it appears to be unprovoked from the information we have received as well as the incident did occur inside the canoe as far as we know," FWC spokesperson Baryl Martin said.

A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office helicopter spotted the woman and her friend in a canoe not far from the park's boat ramp.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue launched a motorized Zodiac-style boat that was used to transport the woman back to Sargeant Park.

She was taken to Tampa General Hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

Michael Cole manages Canoe Outpost at the park. When he found out what happened, he joined rescue workers in the water to try to get the woman back to land.

"We were just worried about getting out there and getting to the girls," said Cole. "They were downstream about 30 to 40 minutes. We responded as quickly and efficiently as we could. We were just concerned about the well-being of the two young ladies."

Reece's friend wasn't hurt.

Cole said the canoe business has been here for more than 20 years. He says when people rent the canoes they are told about the dangers and usually there aren't any problems.

"That's our number one asked question, 'What about the alligators?" said Cole. "And you know, in 23 years, it's never happened and seems like today was just that freakish accident sort of day."

FWC is handling the investigation. They said a trapper will be called to try and catch the gator. Officials say that since the alligator has been aggressive and bitten someone, it will be euthanized if it is captured.

"Be careful when you're around wild animals," said Martin. "Keep a distance."

A sign at the entrance to the Hillsborough River at the park warns about alligators in the water.