Saturday, August 02, 2008

Thanks, Katrina

St. Tammany Parish Deputy Howard McCrea, THE wildlife specialist with the parish, has seen his share of alligators in the past 20+ years. He's spent his entire life tracking and wrangling alligators, said that while he spends most of his time in the Slidell area rounding up the creatures, the incident that occurred this week is the first actual attack.

“The last incident I can recall is a guy getting his finger bitten off when he was feeding a gator,” said McCrea. “These are very territorial animals, and as we move more and more into their territory, the greater the risks of something like this happening.”

McCrea noted that the area’s alligator population has experienced a huge surge in the last three years........since Katrina.

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The little boy who was attacked by the eleven foot gator, Devin Funck of Slidell, is still in intensive care but has been taken off a ventilator and has been able to speak with with his parents, said Dr. Leron Finger, medical director of Ochsner Flightcare and a pediatric intensivist. Though attempts to reattached Funck's arm were not successful, he is otherwise expected to make a full recovery in the coming months, Finger said.

"Devin and his family's courage during this difficult time has been an inspiration to the entire Ochsner staff," he said.

What should also be noted is the incredible efforts by two St. Tammany Parish Deputies who responded to the attack.

Detectives Ben Godwin and Gordon Summerlin had to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion after the alligator was captured and shot.

As St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Detective Ben Godwin recalls:

“I was in the subdivision doing an extra patrol in the area for drug-related activities when I overheard the dispatcher telling patrol units about a 911 call regarding a kid who got his arm bitten of by an alligator. It was a kid. We had to go,” Godwin said.

Godwin and his partner, Detective Gordon Summerlin, headed toward the pond and were flagged down by a New Orleans Police Department officer who lives in the subdivision. He told them they would have to take the levee to get to the pond.

“But when we got there, we got there blocked by a chain link fence and the kid was about a mile and a half in,” said Godwin. “All we could do was run. I grabbed a towel I had in my unit, and me and Gordon took off running. I made it to the kid first. He was out by the pond where the alligator attacked.

“I pulled him to the top of the levee. He had bad lacerations on his neck, and his arm was just gone. I wrapped him in the towel and ran back with him.”

The child, Devin Funck, was remarkably calm, said Godwin. The detectives worked to keep him that way, and to keep him alive.

“I kept the towel over him,” said Godwin. “I didn’t want him to see his arm. He talked about paint ball. And he said he was thirsty. I told him I had a Mountain Dew back in the unit, but he couldn’t have all of it because I needed some, too.”

Godwin kept running through the heat of the afternoon. Funck started to turn pale.

“I kept him talking,” said Godwin. “If he’s talking he’s breathing. And he was thinking. He was making sense.”

When they were part way back from the pond, some help arrived.

“A civilian on a mule, a four-wheeler, was coming toward us as I was running back,” said Godwin. “He picked us up and drove us the rest of the way to where the fire department and medical personnel were.

“When we made it back, medical personnel took the kid, and the next thing I knew I woke up in the emergency room.”

The detective suffered a heat stroke. His partner ended up in the emergency room as well. Summerlin was dehydrated.


As tragic as this story is, it tells of what 99% of all law enforcement officers face on a daily basis and of their dedication to their duties.

Many thanks to Officers Godwin and Summerlin. Y'all rock.

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