ORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mark Johnson, 61, has lived his entire life around alligators. That’s why he was so surprised when one tried to grab him and drag him into a canal behind his Florida home.
Johnson managed to get the gator to let go of his leg by digging both of his index fingers into the hungry reptile’s eye sockets. Even then, he felt lucky to get away alive.
“I’ve always thought I had a greater chance of encountering a rattlesnake on my morning walks than I did of being grabbed by an alligator,” said Johnson, a marine artist and Florida native. “This was scary. I was cussing the gator out saying, ‘You’re not going to get me into the water.'”
Johnson was walking at about 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 13 along a canal with his 8-year-old golden retriever, Rex. He had seen the gator swimming southbound in the canal past where they were walking. Rex was right at the water’s edge nibbling on grass when Johnson noticed the gator turn toward them.
“I stepped down onto the mud bank and yelled at Rex to get on home. He left immediately, but my Croc got stuck in the mud. As I tried to wiggle it free, I saw the gator lunge out of the water and seize onto the back of my right knee.”
The force of the attack knocked Johnson to the ground. In shock, he twisted around and knew he had no chance at prying open the jaws. But he wanted to act fast before the gator tried to go into its “death roll,” perhaps twisting his leg or a chunk of his thigh and calf off its bone. That’s when he reacted with his fingers to the eyeballs.
Eye for an eye
Somewhat to Johnson’s surprise, the gator immediately let go and swam away.
Johnson limped the 75 yards back to his screened porch, blood dripping down his leg. His wife of 25 years, Lou, immediately helped him get into the shower to clean out the wound and wrap a clean towel around it.
They went to a nearby medical center, where the wound was disinfected and treated. He received 12 puncture wounds and about 60 stitches in his leg — plus another five in the index finger on his left hand, where he cut it on the gator’s eye socket.