Gator bites off man's arm on Fripp Island

Coutesy: AP Murphy/WTOC
Coutesy: AP Murphy/WTOC
Courtesty: AP Murphy/WTOC
Courtesty: AP Murphy/WTOC

By Tracey Amick  bio | email

By Live 5 News Staff email | twitter

FRIPP ISLAND, SC (WCSC/WTOC) - A golfer is recovering at MUSC Thursday after an alligator bit off his forearm at a golf course.

The 77-year-old James Wienzek, an Ohio man, was golfing at the Ocean Creek Golf Course earlier Thursday afternoon when he sent a ball into a nearby pond. When the man went to retrieve the ball, an alligator SC DNR officials say was over 10 feet long came out of the water and bit off his arm at the elbow.

David Corneliussen, the owner of Tracks Wildlife Control on Lady's Island, captured the alligator and has quite a story to tell.

"He was sitting close to the bank so we were going to try to put a noose basically, a snare cable over him and when we approached him and almost had it over his head, he went back under the water," said Corneliussen. "He surfaced again and we tried it again and then he moved out a little deeper, played a little cat and mouse for about 30 minutes and then we were able to get a snag on him on a rope with a hook and hook him. We brought him to the shore where we dispatched him, pulled him up and opened him up, removed the arm and EMS was standing by to take it."

The man was transported to MUSC in Charleston. Wildlife officials were called to the scene where they killed the alligator and retrieved the severed arm for doctors.

The victim has not been identified and his condition, at this time, is unknown.

Golfing and Gators

With more than 100,000 alligators in South Carolina, they are pretty common in parks and golf courses across the state. Patrick Brown works at the Stono Ferry golf course in Hollywood and said he's played golf around the Lowcountry and seen his fair share of gators.

"I probably saw a 10 to 11 foot gator out at Kiawah," Brown said.

He says fortunately at the Stono Ferry golf course they're not that big. "Maybe 5 feet, not too big, but they can still take a hand off, " Brown said.

But in the 20 years since Stono Ferry was built, the course has never had an alligator attack. For out of towners, alligators are part of the appeal. "People are curious. They want to see the alligators in the area and want to see a little bit of the Lowcountry," Brown said.

So tourists are given a heads up before they tee off to keep their distance from the wildlife and the water. "Try to avoid it, let it go. Chalk it up to a lost ball," Brown said.

At Stono Ferry the water levels are low currently, so it's easy to spot the gators even near the middle of the pond. Brown says it's common knowledge among locals that if you stay away from the gators, the gators will stay away from you.

In fact, the Department of Natural Resources says bothering them is against the law. Harassing the gators in any way -- by feeding them or throwing something at them -- could get you a ticket costing more than $400.

These alligators are usually only out and about when water and air temps are higher than 80 degrees. "This time of year [the alligators are] trying to soak up as much sun as possible in the winter months they lay low in the mud," Brown said.

So give them their space and if your ball goes near, or in, the water hazard, remember the real hazard in the water.

DNR says, on land, alligators can move more quickly than in the water, so keep your distance. If an alligator is aggressive, don't take matters into your own hands, call them to handle it.

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