‘He's a mess': Witnesses recall finding half-naked man bitten by crocodile

Man found outside St. Augustine Alligator Farm with crocodile bite, police say

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – When residents of a St. Augustine neighborhood woke up to a bizarre sight Tuesday morning, one neighbor called police to report what she saw: a man, without a shirt on, crawling around in the mud in her neighbor's courtyard.

Officers responded and said they found Brandon Hatfield, with injuries, in a neighborhood about a half-mile north of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. That's where authorities said the 23-year-old Green Cove Springs man had broken in, jumped into the crocodile exhibit and caused more than $5,000 in damages.

As he continued to recover in a hospital Wednesday, News4Jax obtained audio of the resident on Holly Lane who called 911.

Dispatcher: "911, what is your emergency?"
Caller: "I live ... in St. Augustine and adjacent to my property is a man with only a pair of gym shorts on that is crawling on the ground. He clearly does not belong here."

LISTEN: 911 call from woman who spotted man after crocodile encounter

St. Augustine police said the resident called just before 7 a.m. Tuesday to report a suspicious person hiding in the bushes in just shorts. 

Dispatcher: "Does it look like he’s crawling because he’s sleeping or ill?"
Caller: "He was just crawling with his shorts halfway down his a** and no other clothes on and he was doing a slow creeping crawl like he didn’t want to be seen."

After police said Hatfield spent several hours at the Alligator Farm, climbing over fences, and jumping into the crocodile enclosure multiple times, he ended up outside Jeff Black’s St. Augustine home. 

"He's in his boxers. He's in the mud. He's a mess," Black recounted to News4Jax on Wednesday. 

In a cellphone video recorded before Hatfield was taken to Flagler Hospital, he can be seen limping around after authorities said he was bitten by a crocodile just hours earlier

"He was clearly dazed. He said I’ve been held hostage with a guy who has alligators in the pool. So he had part of his story right, probably not the 'held hostage' part though," Black said. 

Minutes after the resident called 911, a call came in from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, reporting someone caught on surveillance video jumping into the Oasis on the Nile exhibit that houses three 12-foot Nile crocodiles.

WATCH: Alligator Farm raw surveillance video

After his initial jump from the roof, the surveillance video shows the man on top of a statue and jumping off into a tree, which is when he comes into contact with one of the three crocodiles in the exhibit, explained Jay Ruditis, who works for Fuel Productions, the company that handles security video for the park.

The video shows the crocodile thrash the man around for a bit before letting him go. The man then climbs a glass enclosure wall with a crocodile about 4 or 5 feet below him, but he falls onto a tree, then into the water.

The man then travels a fence like a balance beam, instead of stepping down onto a ledge, with more than 200 alligators about 12 feet below him, but he's able to get out of the exhibit.

John Brueggen, director of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, said those crocodiles have measured the most powerful bite force of any animal on the planet and Hatfield was lucky to have made it out of the exhibit alive.

"The fact that man can still stand up and walk, I think it is surprising," Brueggen said. "To have been grabbed, even had a crocodile do a little bit of a (spin), and to be able to walk out of the exhibit is truly amazing." 

Park officials said they don't know how the man got into the Alligator Farm, but he had to scale several fences and barriers, including a barbed-wire fence, to get into the park. They said he was in the park for about four hours.

The Alligator Farm is a popular tourist attraction in St. Augustine, and Brueggen said it's the first time in the park's history that someone jumped into an exhibit. He said they do not plan on making any security changes to the park. 

On Wednesday, News4Jax stopped by Hatfield's family's home in Green Cove Springs but no one answered. One of his family members posted on Facebook, writing in part, "I’m not ready to make a statement about the situation my family is dealing with. I almost lost my brother and people think it’s a huge joke. My heart is completely broken. My family and I are trying to cope with this situation ... All I can do for my brother is keep praying for his recovery."

Once Hatfield is released from the hospital, authorities said, he'll be taken to the St. Johns County Jail to face charges of burglary, criminal mischief and violation of probation.

Photo of Brandon Hatfield from arrest in September.

About the Author:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.