<
>

Gator bites off boy's arm

Alligator threat not going away in Slidell area

On a day typical in its heat and humidity, with the end of summer vacation fast approaching, a swim in a neighborhood pond seemed a fine idea to 11-year-old Devin Funck and two of his friends.

Big Joe had other ideas.

At 10 feet, 8 inches long and weighing an estimated 500 pounds, the alligator was a familiar sight in the ponds abutting Kingspoint and Fox Hollow subdivisions near Slidell, familiar enough that locals long ago gave the reptile its ominous nickname.

As Devin and his companions splashed and frolicked in Crystal Lake on Wednesday afternoon, they spotted the imposing creature swimming toward them. They darted toward shore, but the alligator overtook Devin and pulled him under.

Big Joe bit Devin's left arm off, all the way to the shoulder. The boy managed to get free, but he was critically hurt.

Update

Surgeons at Ochsner Medical Center were unable to successfully reattach the left arm of 11-year-old Devin Funck, who was attacked by an alligator in a pond near Slidell yesterday, but the boy and his parents are in good spirits, Cory Dunn, a family friend, said Thursday.

Dunn said he has set up a donation account in Devin's name at CapitalOne Bank to help pay for the cost of future surgeries, prosthetics and to help pay for school supplies and uniforms for the boy's brother and sister.

Aamco Transmission in Slidell, Covington and Metairie, where Dunn works, will match a percentage of any donation receipt brought in or donate to the fund a portion of their labor charge for any service, he said.

Devin's rescue by authorities in St. Tammany Parish was to assume epic proportions. About 3 1/2 hours later, he was in surgery at Ochsner Medical Center, with surgeons working to reattached the severed arm, recovered from the belly of the beast by daring law enforcement officers.

Devin's mother, Kim Funck, said she initially thought her son had suffered a much less severe bite.

"I thought he got bit, " she said Wednesday night at Ochsner. "When they told me it took his whole arm off out of his socket, I was floored. I think I'm numb. I'm just numb."

Devin, who is entering the sixth grade at Little Oak Middle School in Slidell, didn't swim "excessively, " but loved the outdoors and rode his bike a lot, she said.

"Anything outdoors, that's Devin, " she said.

And he also loved playing his new Playstation 3. His first words to his mother were: "I'm sorry, I know alligators are dangerous." and "How am I going to play my game now?"

'Series of miracles'

Devin's survival into the evening was due to nothing less than "a series of miracles, " Sheriff Jack Strain said.

"It was a miracle that the boy resurfaced, and it was the miracle of all miracles that the gator did not come back a second time as the boy lay in the water, " the sheriff said.

As the gator attacked, the two girls who had been swimming with Devin scrambled onto shore and ran for help. Three sheriff's deputies happened to be nearby on traffic duty.

The deputies drove as fast and as far as they could, then ran the rest of the way to reach the maimed youth, still in the water. They pulled him out and carried him 1 1/2 miles to their patrol cars.

Devin initially was taken to Slidell Memorial Hospital and later airlifted to Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson.

Meanwhile, deputies and other authorities converged on the lake to hunt down Big Joe. Their hope: Find the right alligator, kill it, cut it open and retrieve Devin's arm in a condition that might make it possible for doctors to reattach it.

St. Tammany alligator expert and sheriff's Deputy Howard McCrea arrived at the scene about 4 p.m. Before long, he had hooked the massive gator on a line, but it broke free.

McCrea and others continued tracking the animal around the lake for most of the next two hours.

"The bigger they are, the bolder they get, " said McCrea, who, despite a lifetime of alligator tracking and hunting on the north shore, had never before dealt with a gator attack.

McCrea eventually hooked the gator again. State wildlife agent Sgt. Darryl Galloway fired several shots, killing the animal about 5:45 p.m.

Waiting and praying

Officers dragged the animal toward the shore, its massive head resting on the side of their small flatboat as its lifeless body floated alongside.

Officers pulled the gator onto land and rolled it onto its back, and McCrea slit it open. There was the boy's arm, largely intact.

Authorities quickly wrapped the limb in a wet towel, stashed it in an ice chest and hurried it to a patrol car. A deputy and two Slidell-area firefighters sped the ice chest to Ochsner.

Devin's condition was undetermined, but authorities near Slidell were hopeful that the boy's arm, once recovered, could be surgically reattached.

Family members gathered in a surgical waiting room at Ochsner Medical Center to wait, hope and pray.

"You hear about this happening, but you never think it's going to happen to someone you know, " Trisha Hamilton said about her nephew as he received preliminary emergency treatment at Slidell Memorial Hospital.

Kim Funck said her son went into surgery at Ochsner about 7:15 p.m. Family members did not know if doctors would be able to successfully reattach his arm.

"It happened so fast. Devin probably didn't know what happened when it bit him, " she said. "I thought (Devin) was the last one that would ever get hurt."

Funck said there are alligators in all the canals and ponds around Kingspoint, but until now they haven't gotten a lot of attention.

She cautioned other children to stay away from ponds. "This happens and someone actually got hurt, bad."

Steering clear

Back at the lake, two local boys said they typically swim there and have never had trouble from Big Joe or any of his buddies before.

"We've swam in Crystal Lake all the time, some summers every day, and the gators never bother us; they just swim around and live in the holes deep at the bottom, " said Phillip "P.G." Borkowski, 15, a resident of Kingspoint subdivision.

Brandon Campo, 15, said that whenever the boys would approach the alligators, "the gators get spooked and swim off."

Neither boy seemed enthused about getting back into their swimming hole anytime soon.

"But we'll continue fishing, " Campo said cautiously.

For more coverage, go to NOLA.com

Writer Benjamin Alexander-Bloch can be reached at bbloch@timespicayune.com or 985.898.4827. Kia Hall Hayes (khayes@timespicayune.com or 985.645.2847) and Mary Elise DeCoursey (medecoursey@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3362) also contributed to the report.