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'I thought I was going to die right there'

Man attacked by alligator in Myakka River

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VENICE - An alligator attacked a Tampa diver searching for shark teeth in the Myakka River over the weekend.

The attack occurred about 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the 5000 block of East Venice Avenue near Snook Haven, according to authorities.

Jeffery Heim, 25, of Tampa, said just minutes after getting into the river, he was coming up from checking the bottom for gravel when he "got slammed."

"It felt like I got hit with a boat going 50 mph," Heim said.

He said the alligator pulled him down into the water and bit him.

After the initial attack, he said he looked right at the alligator and it started to come back at him.

While being disoriented, Heim said he got away and swam to shore.

He said if he had lost consciousness after the attack, he more than likely would have drowned.

Heim said he saw people walking to their cars from the nearby restaurant and yelled for help.

He said at that point he started to get tired, but the people around kept him awake for the ambulance to arrive.

"I thought I was going to die right there," Heim said.

Heim was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital as a trauma alert, according to authorities.

He was released from the hospital Monday with a small skull fracture, 34 staples in his head and two puncture wounds on his hand.

"I knew the risks going in and I should have known better," Heim said. "I should have known it was gator-mating season."

He said he wanted people to know they aren't invincible and the importance of respecting wildlife.

Despite his love of hunting for shark teeth and a small business he owns for it, he said he will not be going to the river anytime soon.

With all of his injuries and recently being released from the hospital, Heim was in good spirits Tuesday afternoon and hopes to continue diving for shark teeth soon.

"I'm realizing how blessed I am to be alive," Heim said. "It definitely changed my life."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the attack.

The FWC said serious injuries from alligators are rare in Florida, but a contracted nuisance alligator trapper was sent to the river in an effort to trap the alligator.

"I learned that day how powerful a gator is," Heim said.


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