Authorities investigating the death of 62-year-old James Okkerse at the Blue Spring State Park claim his injuries are “consistent with an alligator attack.” If Okkerse’s death is determined to be from a fatal alligator bite, it will be the first alligator attack death in Florida since 2007. The man was snorkeling in the spring with two other friends when they claim he simply vanished. Once the body was recovered by the Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, the investigation was handed over to Florida Fish and Wildlife, as the body appeared to have sustained wounds consistent with an alligator attack.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) October 22, 2015
Fox 35 reports that 62-year-old James Okkerse was snorkeling with two of his friends when he suddenly vanished beneath the waters. One of the friends reportedly informed the others to get out of the water because he had seen a “very large” alligator in the general area. However, Okkerse never surfaced, and he could not be found by his fellow snorkelers. Therefore, the group called 911 and informed them that a swimmer had been missing for 10 to 15 minutes and that they needed assistance.
“We have a swimmer that did not come back, and we can’t seem to find him. He usually swims back and forth, and he hasn’t come back for at least 10 to 15 minutes.”
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Officer responded and called out their special Dive Team for assistance. The Dive Team later found Okkerse’s body at the bottom of the spring channel and brought him to the surface. The team noted injuries on the body that were “consistent” with an “alligator attack.” Therefore, the investigation was immediately handed over to Florida Fish and Wildlife.
— FOX 5 Atlanta (@FOX5Atlanta) October 21, 2015
Photographs taken at the scene show Fish and Wildlife crews measuring large alligator teeth after the animal was shot and killed following the alleged attack. The Florida Fish and Wildlife immediately located the 12-foot-long alligator, which was identified by the other swimmers as the one seen in the area when Okkerse went missing. After killing the alligator, the park waited 24 hours before reopening to the public. After no new alligator sightings, the park was reopened for visitors.
According to People Magazine, the Volusia County Medical Examiner has confirmed that the injuries suffered by James Okkerse were consistent with an alligator attack. This makes the man’s death the first alligator attack death in Florida since 2007. Despite the rarity of alligator attacks, Russell Anen wants park officials to do more to ensure that this doesn’t happen to someone else. Anen, who was swimming with Okkerse when he was attacked, says that park officials should have warmed them of the danger of the alligator, as the large beast had been spotted earlier in the day.
“There should be more information put out there for keeping the park in control rather than things getting out of hand. We’re not foolish people. We should have been cautioned, and we probably would have asked for the size of the alligator. I just want things done that are right for Jim and the other people that attend the park. I just want to make sure safety measures are in place.”
The grieving friend says that park officials should at least inform swimmers when alligators have been spotted in the area. However, he goes even further in suggesting that park officials remove alligators from the designated swimming areas altogether.
What do you think about Anen’s suggestion for Florida park officials to remove all alligators that come into the designated swimming areas? Is signage noting the danger of alligators enough for parks that allow swimming?
[Photo by Chris Graythen/ Getty Images]