PORT ST LUCIE, Fla. (CBS12) — It was a clear Sunday morning when 61-year-old Mark Johnson took his dog Rex out for a walk near a canal in a Port St. Lucie neighborhood near Southeast Marius Street.
"We were walking back," he said. "I had him on a leash. A gator had spotted us, apparently, and was coming after us. I turned my leg but my foot got caught in the mud."
Johnson unleashed Rex and told him to run home. But with his shoe stuck in the mud at the edge of the water, Johnson found himself just seconds from a rare alligator attack.
According to the FWC, attacks are so rare that there have been 401 documented alligator bites in Florida since 1948. Of that number, 23 have been deadly attacks.
Johnson made it out alive but the nearly nine-foot gator put up a tough fight.
"The mouth was above my knee and I began to pull back, the best I can," said Johnson as he relives the frightening moments when he came face-to-face with an aggressive alligator. "I felt the pressure. He was clamping down onto my leg and I felt he was going to start to do his [death] roll."
Alligators perform a spinning maneuver, which is referred to as the"death roll," to subdue and dismember prey.
Johnson refused to go out without a fight so, in seconds, Johnson began yelling as he wrestled the seven-foot gator on the edge of the canal.
"I’m not going to let you take me in the water," is what he shouted as he attempted to wrestle free from the alligator. "I was actually pissed at the gator that he did that. My adrenaline was up."
The 61-year-old man says he used his bare hands to escape.
“I went in that deep in his eye sockets with my fingers and he immediately opened up," Johnson said. "Thank God and I pulled back. I got up.”
The gator took off. Johnson, who was then bleeding profusely, stumbled up and out of the mud, then back home. He received close to 60 stitches in his leg plus another five in his left hand. A painful reminder of that frightening attack.
Johnson later told CBS12 News Wednesday night that trappers caught the gator that attacked him.
"When your whole leg is in the jaws of a gator, you're not thinking size, you're thinking survival. I knew he was bigger than me," he said. "Well, the realization hit me today at how lucky I was, He was 8'6." It’s really hitting me now at how fortunate I am, you're talking seconds before a gator that size begins his death roll, tearing flesh , you know. That eight to 10 seconds will be burned in my mind the rest of my life."