An elderly Canadian woman was attacked and killed by an 8-foot alligator on Skidaway Island Friday, Oct. 5, the first documented fatality by a gator in Georgia.
The body of Gwen Williams, 83, was found the following day in a lagoon at The Landings, a gated community on Skidaway, east of Savannah. Williams was house-sitting for her son, who was traveling abroad. A couple riding in a golf cart spotted the body floating in the pond some 500 feet from the home.
An autopsy performed at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) by Dr. Ed Donahue resulted in findings that Mrs. Williams died from major blood loss from “wounds consistent with those of an alligator attack.”
The body was missing the right hand and foot, as well as the left arm.
“Speculation is that she was walking near the water, but we don’t know how close to it she was or how familiar with the area she was because she was a recent visitor here from Canada,” said Sgt. Mike Wilson, a spokesman for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department (SCMPD). “There were no witnesses to the attack, but there were reports from neighbors that they heard someone screaming between eight and nine Friday night. By the time anyone could get outside to see what was happening, there was nothing to be seen.”
After determining the cause of death, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) personnel called in licensed-agent-trapper Jack Douglas to attempt to locate and remove the alligator. Hours after the lab report came back Tuesday, Jack was on the water that night.
“This lagoon is over a mile long, but we spotted the gator just about the time we got there, in pretty much the same area where the attack took place,” Jack said.
Using a weighted snatch hook and a heavy rod and reel, Jack began casting over and past the reptile, attempting to snatch the hooks into it and reel it in.
“He went down three times, but I got him on the third cast,” Jack said. “There really wasn’t much to it after that except to get him to the boat and find out later on if we had the right one, because there were several gators in there.”
Jack performed a necropsy with WRD and SCMPD representatives on hand, and the stomach contents confirmed that the 8-footer was the cause of Williams’ death.
“There were four more gators in there that the folks wanted out, and I’ve removed two 7-footers and a 5-footer since,” Jack said. “There’s one more there that I know of, but I haven’t been able to catch it just yet.”
As with almost any area around Savannah, Skidaway Island’s ponds have their share of alligators.
“We have frequent sightings, but attacks are extremely uncommon,” Sgt. Wilson said.
“Most of the people who live out there at the Landings and other such communities on the coast are well aware of the wildlife around them and are cautious in their dealings with them,” he said. “This is an anomaly, just one of those unfortunate incidents that no one could foresee happening. I’m just glad we could quickly identify and remove an aggressive animal out of that area.”
Jack Douglas has caught thousands of alligators in the years he has been trapping, but says he has never experienced anything like this.
“I’m just extremely sorry for the family, and I’m glad it’s over,” said Jack. “It’s got to be a tough ordeal for them, because it has been tough for me. Nobody will ever really know exactly how it happened, but it just keeps flashing back in my mind how it could have been. Maybe if somebody had just been close by and able to help, everything would have turned out differently.”
According to WRD spokesperson Melissa Cummings, since 1980, when WRD began keeping records of gator attacks, this is only the eighth recorded attack, and the first fatal one.
One of the more dramatic attacks occurred on June 1994, when a WRD biologist on Ossabaw Island was attacked by a 10-foot gator while he was giving a talk about gators to a group of Boy Scouts. In that incident, biologist Steve Kyle was kneeling by the pond when the gator surged out of the water. Steve instinctively put his right arm out to fend off the animal, and his right arm disappeared into the animal’s mouth up to his elbow.
Steve immediately grabbed the gator’s tongue, and he began to gouge at the gator’s eyes with his other hand. The gator let go, but then snapped its jaws shut on his arm below the elbow.
The 300-lb. gator attempted to drag Steve into the pond, but Steve was strong enough to hold his ground, and continue to gouge the gator’s eyes until the gator turned him loose. Steve was treated and returned to work that day.