Mark Johnson, 61, has lived his entire life around a crocodile. That’s why he was surprised when someone tried to catch him and pull him into a canal behind his home in southeast Port St. Lucie.
Johnson managed to get the alligator to leave his leg by drilling both index fingers into the eye sockets of a hungry reptile. Even then, he felt lucky to run away alive.
Said Johnson, a Florida-born marine artist who was born and raised in Winter Garden, near Lake Apopka. “That was scary. I cursed the crocodile saying, ‘You’re not going to get me into the water.’
At about 9:30 a.m. Johnson was walking along a canal with his 8-year-old golden retriever dog Rex. He saw the crocodile swimming south in the canal, past as they were walking. Rex was right at the water’s edge nibbling on the grass when Johnson noticed the alligator turning towards them.
“I got down on the mud bank and shouted at Rex to get home. He left immediately, but my Crooke got stuck in the mud. When I tried to wiggle freely, I saw the alligator rush out of the water and grab the back of my right knee.”
The force of the attack caused Johnson to fall to the ground. In shock, he twisted around and knew that he had no chance to intrude and open his jaws. But he wanted to act quickly before the crocodile tried to enter a “death scroll,” perhaps twisting his leg or part of his thigh and bone. This is when he was interacting with his fingers with the eyeballs.
Somewhat to Johnson’s amazement, he immediately left the alligator and swam away.
Limp Johnson returned 75 yards to his covered porch, with blood dripping from his leg. His wife Luo, aged 25, immediately helped him take a shower to clean the wound and wrap a clean towel around it.
They went to St. Lucy’s Medical Center, where the wound was disinfected and treated. He had 12 punctures and about 60 stitches in his leg as well as another five on the index finger of his left hand, which he cut into the alligator’s eye socket.
He said the pain was very severe, due to the force of the jaws pressing against his leg like teeth. He said the worst pain he had ever felt was the time he stepped on the stingrays while fishing in the Indian River Lagoon, until S
Johnson said he doesn’t blame the alligator. She was doing what the crocodile does.
“But it is important for people to understand how dangerous crocodiles are,” Johnson said. “If I were a little kid or a pet, I wouldn’t have had a chance.”
Johnson said it was important to keep his cool to survive.
“You can’t panic. I fish all the time too. I’ll get to the bottom and bass with my hand. I just got lucky.”
The Johnsons asked their neighbors, Challenge, to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report the accident.
“You can take out one (crocodile) and get 10 more,” said Jerry Chanelor. “This is a swamp. We built our homes in Florida, in the crocodile house.”
The FWC sent a contracted annoying Hunter to the scene, but they were unable to locate the alligator.
“The hunter told me I’m lucky,” Johnson said. “He said that tricking the fingers into the eye socket doesn’t always work.”
When he is able to get walking again, he said, he will likely carry some kind of weapon for protection.