The alligator attack that took the life of a 2-year-old boy this month was allegedly the first time such a traumatic incident happened at Walt Disney World, at least according to an official. A New Hampshire man who still remembers a similar incident happening to him as a child disagrees.
New York Daily News reports that 38-year-old Paul Santamaria was just an 8-year-old child when he was dragged to near death by an alligator while at a Walt Disney World campground that he visited with his family in 1986. After learning how Nebraska toddler Lane Graves was dragged off by an alligator, Santamaria couldn’t help but remember the terrifying experience he went through decades ago at the same theme park.
Santamaria found it disappointing that Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings indicated that this sort of incident had never happened before, since Disney’s Orlando opening in 1971.
“I was like, ‘Yeah it has! And it was me!’”
Although it’s been 30 years since Santamaria visited the theme park, he still recalls the experience as if it were yesterday. His family had just arrived at the Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground when he spotted a play area close to the edge of water.
Excited to see ducks in the water, Santamaria and his siblings began tossing bread to them. He never entered the water, but instead stood at the edge of the murky area where an alligator crept up, undetected.
“I was feeding ducks near the water’s edge and there was an alligator submerged under the water where you couldn’t see it and it came up out of the water and hit me and knocked me on the ground. It just started throwing me around, trying to pull me into the water and my first reaction was just to grab the ground, to hold on and to yell for my brother and sister.”
His siblings did their best to help him. While his brother threw whatever he could find at the seven-and-a-half-feet-long reptile, his sister tried to pull the alligator, who already clamped its jaw down on one of Santamaria’s legs. He remembers kicking the alligator with his free leg until he broke away.
“I started kicking with my available leg and it opened its mouth and let me go.”
Santamaria was rushed to hospital after being bit on the “front of the leg, across the knee cap, up the shin.” Doctors found an alligator tooth embedded in his thigh. He spent a week in the hospital, where he was visited by Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and Snow White.
Although he’s certainly disheartened that Demings isn’t being open about a previous attack, he indicated that it’s no one’s fault, and could have happened to anyone.
“It’s nobody’s fault, anything can happen at any time and you just hope that your kids will stay safe and that you can keep them safe and that they’ll grow up healthy.”
However, he added that since most people from out of town aren’t aware of the alligators in the area, there should be some sort of warning when people come to Florida to enjoy a family vacation. An alligator attack is usually the last thing a family is thinking of when arriving to Disney World, but Santamaria thinks it’s something everyone should be aware of.
“It’s scary that alligators are there. It’s an associated danger with that area. People from Florida know it’s there, but people from another place don’t know. Maybe they should give verbal warnings when people check in. I don’t have a crystal ball. But even if they handed out something when your check in or posted signs, there’s no guarantee people would read it.”
[Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images]