His story: Man fleeing deputies, attacked by gator speaks to WFL - WNCT

His story: Man fleeing deputies, attacked by gator speaks to WFLA.com

Posted: Updated:
PINELLAS COUNTY, FL -

How did a man wind up with his arm and head in a gator's mouth? By running away from a traffic stop, according to Pinellas County deputies.

"I'm still in shock," said Bryan Zuniga in a jail interview with News Channel 8. "I'm just glad to be alive right now and that I'm okay."

Zuniga says the gator's teeth left deep holes from his left arm, up his shoulder, and onto his face.

"From the tip of my fingers to half my bicep - that's how long the snout was," Zuniga said.

This story starts early Thursday morning in the 7100 block of 78th Ave. N in Pinellas County. Deputies say they pulled over Zuniga, who's 20, for failing to "maintain a single lane."

"I was going from a gas station to another one but they were both closed. I did use my traffic signals for every turn and switching lanes," he said. "I saw a car with one headlight following me and I just felt uncomfortable. I didn't know if it was a police officer. I didn't know if it was undercover."

Zuniga said one reason he was uneasy was because, recently, people have tried to "intimidate" him, but he wouldn't elaborate on what that meant.

"I saw the car approach behind me and it pulled in the driveway behind me too. As it did that - I just jumped out of my car and I started running," he said. "I didn't hear 'this is the sheriff's department' or 'I'm an officer.' I just heard someone say 'stop and come here.' I just kept running. I didn't want to look back. I was scared."

Eventually, he says, he did realize what was really happening.

"By the time I jumped a couple fences and I was running away I heard 'back-up' and I realized it was an officer. Then I was just surrounded by cops and I realized I was alluding a traffic stop," Zuniga said. "I was just scared of the way the officers were going to approach me if they were going to tease me, hit me, abuse me or something because I was running."

He made it to a canal and started swimming away.

"Because I was swimming for so long and I was running - I got exhausted so I stopped," he said.

The water was knee-deep.

"That's how the gator caught up to me. When he saw that I stopped, he attacked me," Zuniga said. "The moment his teeth and his jaws touched me - I was in a death roll and I was fighting for my life."

He says the gator clamped down on his arm up to his armpit and bit his face too. How did he get away?

"I don't know. I must've poked it in the eye or I made it realize I didn't want to be gator food," he said. "The moment it released me - I stood up and I just ran."

Zuniga walked to St. Petersburg General Hospital where deputies eventually caught up with him and took him to jail.

"I feel very lucky to be here and alive ... and know that I have my body parts still together - not my arm missing, a finger, or an eyeball," Zuniga said. "It's just all a misunderstanding and misunderstandings lead to bad things."

At his first appearance on Friday, a judge could see Zuniga's injuries even as he came up to the microphone on tele-conference.

"What did you tangle with a K9," asked Judge Frank Quesada. This is the conversation that followed:

Bryan Zuniga: "An alligator."

Judge: "Alligator? Police using alligators now?"

Bryan Zuniga: "No."

Judge: "Oh."

Quesada assigned a public defender to represent Zuniga since the defendant couldn't afford one. Among other things Zuniga is facing charges of fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, which his defense is already challenging. The judge set his bond at $2,300. As of Friday night, the man who says he survived a gator attack was still in jail.

  • 8 On Your SideMore>>

  • Squatters moving out of New Port Richey soldier's home

    Squatters moving out of New Port Richey soldier's home

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:28 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:28:18 GMT
    Squatters begin moving out of Spc. Michael Sharkey's home on Wednesday night.Squatters begin moving out of Spc. Michael Sharkey's home on Wednesday night.
    Our 8 On Your Side story about a New Port Richey soldier who says his home has been taken over by squatters is striking a nerve in the community and now, the squatters are moving out. 
    Our 8 On Your Side story about a New Port Richey soldier who says his home has been taken over by squatters is striking a nerve in the community and now, the squatters are moving out.  
  • Pricey processing issue at Tampa hair academy resolved

    Pricey processing issue at Tampa hair academy resolved

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 9:35 AM EDT2014-04-23 13:35:13 GMT
    Loretta Maloy says she always expected to pay for the courses she took those several weeks, but thought $10,000 in loans just wasn’t right.
    Loretta Maloy says she always expected to pay for the courses she took those several weeks, but thought $10,000 in loans just wasn’t right.
  • New Port Richey soldier says squatters won't leave his home

    New Port Richey soldier says squatters won't leave his home

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 8:58 AM EDT2014-04-23 12:58:50 GMT
    Soldier & homeowner Michael Sharkey was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago. Facebook photoSoldier & homeowner Michael Sharkey was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago. Facebook photo
     When soldier Michael Sharkey was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago, he asked a friend to watch over his New Port Richey house. Now, they're fighting to get their house back.
    When soldier Michael Sharkey was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago, he asked a friend to watch over his New Port Richey house. Now, they're fighting to get their house back.
  • NewsMore>>

  • FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

    FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

    Thursday, April 24 2014 12:54 AM EDT2014-04-24 04:54:27 GMT
    The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.
    The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • MH370: Object found on coast not related to lost plane

    MH370: Object found on coast not related to lost plane

    Thursday, April 24 2014 12:38 AM EDT2014-04-24 04:38:37 GMT
    The object, found Wednesday, was described as a torn and misshapen piece of sheet metal with rivets, coated with fiberglass.
    The object, found Wednesday, was described as a torn and misshapen piece of sheet metal with rivets, coated with fiberglass.
  • Squatters moving out of New Port Richey soldier's home

    Squatters moving out of New Port Richey soldier's home

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:28 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:28:18 GMT
    Squatters begin moving out of Spc. Michael Sharkey's home on Wednesday night.Squatters begin moving out of Spc. Michael Sharkey's home on Wednesday night.
    Our 8 On Your Side story about a New Port Richey soldier who says his home has been taken over by squatters is striking a nerve in the community and now, the squatters are moving out. 
    Our 8 On Your Side story about a New Port Richey soldier who says his home has been taken over by squatters is striking a nerve in the community and now, the squatters are moving out.  
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Woman claims pedicure crossed the line

    Woman claims pedicure crossed the line

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 11:45 PM EDT2014-04-23 03:45:39 GMT
    A Shreveport woman said a nail tech from Style Nails in Shreveport crossed the line during a pedicure, and that she has cell phone video to prove it.
    A Shreveport woman said a nail tech from Style Nails in Shreveport crossed the line during a pedicure, and that she has cell phone video to prove it.
  • Mom bites off dog's ear to save daughter during attack

    Mom bites off dog's ear to save daughter during attack

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 2:49 PM EDT2014-04-22 18:49:19 GMT
    Image from CNN/KHOU-TVImage from CNN/KHOU-TV
    In a backyard in Alvin, swings a very lucky girl. Her name is Mackenzi Plass, or Kenzi for short, and she survived a dog attack and has undergone several surgeries."She'll be two and a half in May," said her very proud mother Chelsi Camp. "She's doing great. You wouldn't know it if you couldn't see."Mackenzi has scars on her face after the ordeal just weeks ago that put her mother's animal instincts to the test."You do whatever you can," said Camp. "I don't have physical strength at my side."...
    In a backyard in Alvin, swings a very lucky girl. Her name is Mackenzi Plass, or Kenzi for short, and she survived a dog attack and has undergone several surgeries."She'll be two and a half in May," said her very proud mother Chelsi Camp. "She's doing great. You wouldn't know it if you couldn't see."Mackenzi has scars on her face after the ordeal just weeks ago that put her mother's animal instincts to the test."You do whatever you can," said Camp. "I don't have physical strength at my side."...
  • Search halted for missing Gaboon Viper

    Search halted for missing Gaboon Viper

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 7:08 PM EDT2014-04-22 23:08:20 GMT
    The missing viper could still be out there, but the search has been halted for safety concerns.
    The missing viper could still be out there, but the search has been halted for safety concerns.
Powered by WorldNow

3221 South Evans Street
Greenville N.C. 27834

Telephone: 252.355.8500
Fax: 252.355.8568
Email: newsdesk@wnct.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.