LABELLE, Fla. – A real estate tycoon who owns a nature preserve tried to show off for visitors by jumping on an alligator's back for a ride, but the reptile bit his hand and dragged him into 15 feet of water.
The 8-foot alligator let go of Ronald Bergeron after witnesses pulled its tail. Bergeron, 62, suffered a shattered pinky, a broken ring finger and puncture wounds in his palm.
The multimillionaire developer tried the stunt Sunday while giving a tour of his 5,000-plus-acre preserve to weekend guests who had made large donations to the Boys & Girls Club.
"I always tell them I'm going to wrestle an alligator," Bergeron said Wednesday. "It's part of my Florida cracker culture. My grandfather was a game warden in the Everglades, and I grew up around alligators."
He said he usually rides the alligator for a minute before letting it go.
This time, Bergeron said, "he was rolling and I couldn't keep control of his mouth. He grabbed my hand in his mouth."
Bergeron was pulled under the water before guests grabbed the alligator and pulled it out. Bergeron was driven to a hospital.
He said he never harms the alligators at the preserve, west of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County.
Animal harassment is illegal. The incident has not been reported to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, spokeswoman Dani Moschella said.
Bergeron, who also competes in a weekly rodeo, said he was unlikely to give up alligator wrestling. "Too exciting," he said.