Disney Gator Attack: Guest Warned Resort Employee 45 Minutes Before Fatal Bite

A tourist alerted hotel staffer to an approaching gator less than an hour before the June incident that took the life of a toddler

Last Updated: August 22, 2016 @ 3:39 PM

A Walt Disney World guest warned hotel employees about an alligator 5 feet from shore less than an hour before the fatal attack on 2-year-old Lane Graves, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Shawna Giacomini, a tourist from North Carolina, told investigators in a sworn statement that she was on the beach at about 7:15 p.m. on June 14 with her two daughters when the children saw an alligator in the marsh about 5 feet from shore. The older daughter went to a man wearing a shirt labeled “coordinator” and told him about the alligator.

The family then went to the store, and by the time they returned, the attack had happened.

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on June 14 at the Grand Floridian resort at Walt Disney World, an adult gator bit Graves on the head and dragged him under the water, causing injuries that resulted in the child’s death. At the time, Graves was bent over near the hotel’s beach area filling a bucket with water.

The report also contained testimony from other resort guests who separately observed alligators in close proximity the evening of the attack.

Jason Ochs emailed investigators on June 19, reporting that he had observed an alligator at about 7:30 p.m. swimming from an island to the beach area. Alfred Smith, another hotel guest, photographed an alligator from his room at 7:41 p.m. He told investigators that he warned an unidentified Disney employee and was in the process of warning the children whom he noticed playing in the water “when he heard the mother screaming.”

The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked “predatory attack” and said that an investigation into alligator feeding activity — which has been blamed for the presence of alligators so close to resort guests — is ongoing.

“We continue to pray for the Graves family,” Nick Wiley, the executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in an email. “FWC would like to thank Disney and our partners at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for the professional collaboration on this thorough investigation. Our agency will continue to work to keep families informed on how they can safely enjoy all that Florida has to offer.”

Graves’ parents had previously decided not to sue Disney, but Matt Focht, a personal injury attorney, told TheWrap that the report would have been helpful to their case had they chosen to seek redress in court.

“Notice of a hazard with a sufficient amount of time to prevent injury is critical in any premises liability case,” Focht wrote in an email to TheWrap. “In this case, the report indicates that Disney, through its employee, was told about the presence of an alligator nearby.  Moreover, there was at least 30-45 minutes between the time when the Giacomini daughter told the Disney AV/Movie Coordinator about the alligator and when Lane Graves was attacked.  It would be for a jury to decide what the applicable standard of care required Disney to do (e.g., close the beach) and whether Disney had enough time to put those actions into effect.”