Friday, March 21, 2008

Spotted Eagle Ray Kills Keys Tourist

**Reprinted from the Miami Herald** We don't usually add non-diving related stories, but I'm sure a lot of folks will want clarification about this one. This was NOT a diving death and the woman was NOT stung by the eagle ray. The eagle ray happened to jump out of the water while the boat was going by and it happened to run into her and knock her head against the boat. Obviously, this was a freak accident that no one could have either predicted or prevented.

Eagle ray's leap into boat kills tourist in Keys
A Michigan tourist died Thursday when a ray flew out of the water, knocking her head against the side of the boat.
Posted on Fri, Mar. 21, 2008

MARATHON -- A morning fishing outing ended in tragedy Thursday for a family of Michigan tourists when a 75-pound spotted eagle ray leaped into their boat and caused the death of a 55-year-old woman.

Judy Kay Zagorski, 55, of Pigeon, Mich., who was fishing with her sister and parents, died Thursday morning of apparent blunt force trauma.

The exact cause won't be known until her autopsy is performed Friday.

Officials of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say they can't remember a similar accident in the Keys happening in at least 20 years.

''It's so unusual, so rare, so bizarre,'' FWC spokesman Jorge Pino said. ``We see them jump out of the water all the time, but [have] never seen them impact a human being or cause a death.

``She was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.''

Spotted eagle rays are capable of leaping completely out of the water when pursued or trying to shake off scavenger fish that attach themselves to the ray.

This ray, which died from being out of the water too long, had a remora -- known as a suckerfish -- attached to its fin.

The rays swim gracefully through the water via the undulation of the pectoral fins.


''They naturally jump out of the water, like porpoises do,'' Dube said. ``It's natural to them and quite spectacular to watch.''

Investigators said Zagorski had injuries to her face and head. They did not find evidence she was pierced by the ray's toxic barb.

''To lose a child just leaves the parents numb,'' said neighbor Marcia Corcoran, who knew the family from their annual visits to Marathon. ``I can hardly believe it myself.''

The Michigan family left the dock of their pink rented house on Fifth Avenue Ocean in Marathon just before 10 a.m. They were traveling on a rented 25-foot fishing boat to the deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean via the Key Colony Beach Channel near Vaca Cut.

The boat was traveling about 25 miles an hour when the ray jumped into the air and on board. The ray struck both sisters, who were sitting in front of the console.

Zagorski's sister suffered a bad bruise, and she was treated and released from Fishermen's Hospital.

Investigators say the force of the ray likely caused Zagorski to hit her head, possibly on a metal rail on the side of the boat.

''There was a lot of blood on the boat,'' FWC spokesperson Bobby Dube said.

CPR was performed while Zagorski's father drove the boat to a dock just a block from their vacation rental. Neighbor Jim Corcoran called 911 and said rescue emergency personnel arrived within minutes.

But it was too late.

Zagorski, wearing a bathing suit and her wedding ring, was already dead.

Her husband, Steve, had died in 2005 at age 53.

At the time of the accident, a third sister was on a plane to join the family, unaware of what had happened.

Corcoran said the spotted eagle ray was so big it took up about half of the front of the boat.

It's not the first time a ray has caused injury in South Florida. In October 2006, a spotted eagle ray stung a Broward County man, piercing his chest with its toxic barb.


The 30-pound stingray leapt into James Bertakis' boat while he was near Lighthouse Point with his granddaughter and one of her friends. The foot-long barb stuck into Bertakis' chest and entered his heart chamber.

Bertakis, now 83, has made an almost full recovery, according to son Jim Bertakis. After several weeks in intensive care followed by in-patient rehabilitation, the elder Bertakis is ''90 percent'' better, his son said. He even has been back on the water in his 16-foot boat.

''Dad's doing great. I just saw him three days ago,'' Jim Bertakis said Thursday from Michigan. ``It's a miracle he survived. We smile every time we see him.''

Miami Herald staff writer Evan S. Benn contributed to this report. Photo by DETECTIVE MARK COLEMAN/MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE.

No comments: