Investigators, a witness and friends are revealing the harrowing accounts of the first recorded fatal alligator attack in Texas and more about the victim.
A justice of the peace tells KFDM News Tommie Woodward, 28, is from St. Louis, but moved to Orange with his twin brother. He’s worked in the shipyards the past few years.
“One minute he’s there and then the next minute he’s gone,” Michelle Wright said.
What started as a night of fun at Burkhart’s Marina in Orange ended with the fatal attack early Friday morning.
“I asked him please do not go swimming, there’s a bigger alligator out here, just please stay out of the water,” Wright, an employee at the restaurant, said.
Workers report they spotted a ten-foot gator in the waters of Adams Bayou this week, prompting them to post a warning sign reading “No Swimming Alligators.”
Investigators said Woodward didn’t pay attention to the posted warnings and pleas from Wright.
“He said blank the alligators and thereupon jumped into the water,” Orange County Justice of the Peace Rodney Price said.
Price said the 28-year old was almost immediately attacked and another young girl jumped in after him.
“Next thing I know this girl is screaming an alligators got him, an alligator’s got him and I grab a flashlight trying to zoom it over the water, trying to find him,” Wright said. “The next thing I know, I don’t even know how long it was, I saw his body floating face down and then he’s up there for a couple seconds and then he gets dragged back down and pulled off.”
Wright said he disappeared in the water.
“I kept trying to figure out and calling his name and calling his name and he just, he was dead. And it’s heartbreaking,” Wright said.
Two hours later, searchers found Woodward’s body about 200 yards away.
“I just want to know why, why, you knew better than to go swimming,” friend Angela Hoffpauir said.
It’s a warning investigators want others to heed.
“Whether it’s a speed limit sign on a freeway, a fireworks message, whatever, heed the warning sign, follow that because a failure to heed that can result in a terrible tragedy for your family,” Judge Price said.
Now family and friends are left remembering a life taken in an instant.
“If you’re upset, you’re hurting, he could make you smile, he could make you laugh, he was just a funny person,” Wright said.
Judge Price has ordered an autopsy.