There are no words that can justify the alligator attack of 2 year old Lance Graves at Disney World last week, but one past alligator victim at Disney wants to send the Graves family a message. Simply, he told Fox 13, he wants them to know that what happened wasn't their fault. He also said that he was "disheartened" when he heard Disney say that a tragedy like this hadn't happened in 45 years. "It happened to me, 30 years ago," Paul Santamaria said, who was attacked in 1986.
He added that because of legalities he couldn't say if he had received a settlement or anything from the attack. But even though he was only eight years old when his accident occurred, watching the news this week has brought everything back for him. Because, yes, being attacked by an alligator in the happiest place on earth is more than terrifying.
In 1986, Santamaria was feeding the ducks at the Fort Wilderness campground. just across from the Grand Floridian, where Graves was taken. "It happened in slow motion," he said. "The alligator came out of the water kind of sideways, swinging its head," he added." Santamaria recalled that he almost didn't feel any pain, because of the way it happened "so slow" in his mind.
It's hard to even imagine the terror of the victim and the family when something like this happens. The 7 1/2 footlong female gator had him by the leg when he started screaming. Then his brother and sister, then 10 and 12 years old, came to help him. "My sister grabbed me under my arms and pulled against the alligator in a tug of war. My brother was scrambling around picking up rocks and sticks to hit it with," he told The Daily News. "I remember just looking at it and seeing its face thinking, 'I've got to start kicking.' So with my free leg, I dug my heel into it and did anything I could," he said.
Luckily it worked. Santamaria says that his leg was in the gator throat but eventually "it just got scared or it was too much of a fight. It opened its mouth and let go," he said. He spent a week in a hospital after the attack and Disney characters like Snow White came to visit him.
Santamaria thinks that even though it's obvious to Florida residents that gators are in the water, people from the rest of the country aren't real aware of the dangers. He hopes that Disney will start verbally warning people when they check in or at least up the signage. But Santamaria says that it's not about blaming the park. "This should be about concern for this family,” he said.
It's safe to assume that many of us were jilted by the Graves' story, but for Santamaria, it was all that much more real.