MELBOURNE, Fla. — A homeless man swimming in a Florida creek was attacked by an alligator Monday, Melbourne police say.
The man, known in the homeless community by his street name "Ron Jon," suffered a number of deep punctures along his shoulder as a result of a struggle with the alligator in Melbourne's Crane Creek, police said. The attack happened under a U.S. 1 overpass, in a fishing spot popular with the area homeless community.
“He was in the river and an alligator came up and grabbed him. It grabbed him by the shoulder,” said Cmdr. Dan Lynch of the Melbourne Police Department.
Police were training in the area at the time and heard what sounded like loud screams just after 9 a.m.
“The officers heard the screaming and found him on the bank of the river with significant gashes on his shoulder. We found him there on the shore,” Lynch said, of the man, who was conscious and in pain.
The man was treated quickly. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers began a search for the alligator. But the alligator — whose size was not immediately known — has not been located. Several Fish and Wildlife Commission boats were canvassing the river.
One man said he saw the alligator before the attack.
"I was standing up on the bridge and I happened to look that way," said Marc Smith-Brown. "The head (of the gator)," he said, stretching out his hands to show width, "I kid you not, was that big." Smith-Brown, however, did not see the actual attack but knew that the victim was wading in the warm waters.
The man’s condition was not immediately known. He was rushed to the hospital.
The alligator attack is one of several reported in Florida this year, including the June incident where an alligator dragged a 2-year-old boy into the water at a Disney Resort.
According to statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a dozen or more bites are recorded a year.
In 2015, Florida had its first fatal alligator attack since 2007.
Contributing: Tim Shortt, Florida Today; Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY Network. Follow J.D. Gallop on Twitter: @JDGallop