Alligator suspected in death

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Construction workers found the dismembered body of a Davie, Fla., woman Wednesday who authorities say may have been attacked and dragged into a canal by an alligator.

Yovy Suarez Jimenez, 28, had gone out for a jog along a bicycle trail in Davie on Tuesday night, authorities said. The next day, her body was found floating in a canal, police Lt. Robert Voss said.

Police said Jimenez was still wearing her Nike sneakers, sports bra and shorts.

“We have witnesses and we have physical evidence to support our theory that the young lady was dragged into the water and attacked,” said Officer Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “But, that’s a theory. We may never know. The possibility also exists that she might have fallen in.”

Unidentified witnesses told investigators that a woman matching Jimenez’s description was seen dangling her feet over the water’s edge. But Pino said no one actually saw the attack.

Whether Jimenez drowned or died from her wounds won’t be determined until an autopsy is performed today.

Still, being killed by an alligator is extremely rare. There have only been 25 fatal alligator attacks in Florida since 1948 and none in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to the wildlife commission.

The most recent occurred in Port Charlotte when a 12-foot alligator attacked a 41-year-old man as he swam in a canal in July. Nearly a year before that, a 20-year-old woman was killed in Lee County while swimming in a retention pond. In 2004, a woman was attacked while landscaping in Sanibel Island.

In 1993, an alligator grabbed the head of Bradley Weidenhamer, 10, of Lantana, and dragged him into the Loxahatchee River. Bradley died despite frantic efforts by his father and others to free him from the alligator’s jaws in a remote site along the river in Martin County.

Experts say alligator attacks haven’t become more common but man’s interaction with the reptile has. As more land is developed to keep pace with Florida’s housing boom, more wildlife habits are lost and alligators are more likely to wander into residential and commercial areas looking for food.

The lack of rain is also bringing more alligators out of the wild.

“The (Florida) Everglades is very, very dry, so that means a lot of gators that were in the marshes are now in canals,” said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife scientist. “So probably everywhere you go in the western part of Broward County, there are more alligators in canals than there were a month ago.

Mazzotti called the increase “dramatic” and said there could be as many as 10 times more alligators swimming in canals.

Mazzotti said people still are more likely to be hit by lightning or win the lottery than to be attacked by an alligator. “Every day that you get in your car and drive to work, you are in way more danger than you are of being attacked by an alligator,” he said.

Most attacks occur because the reptiles are looking for food, wildlife officials said. The creatures are naturally afraid of humans, but they loose that fear if people feed them, officials said.

“We don’t know if this young lady was actually feeding the gator or not,” Pino said. “But, we do know that once the alligator starts to loose its natural fear of humans it starts to perceive the human as a food source.”

That is why tossing breadcrumbs or other food scraps at the reptiles is a crime, officials said.

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Jimenez set out for her evening jog about 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sunrise police said. Living in the 12800 block of State Road 84, she ran along a bicycle path parallel to the highway.

Her family hadn’t heard from her since and were filing a missing person’s report Wednesday when they saw reports of a woman pulled from a canal 20 blocks from their home on the nightly news, Voss said.

Angie Suarez came to the scene and identified her sister’s body from photos, he said.

Wildlife officers and animal trappers spent hours trying to catch the eight to 10-foot alligator. Once captured, the reptile will be removed, destroyed and the contents of its stomach examined, Pino said.

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