NAPLES — Beside Alligator Alley in Golden Gate, there is a canal that locals have named “the Crystal.”
Tracy Cusick, 39, and Chris Kight, 49, parked their van and set their white plastic chairs underneath a shade tree beside the Crystal, their favorite swimming hole, to enjoy some “tranquility.”
Cars repeatedly swoosh by on the interstate, but the trees act as a buffer between the couple and civilization.
“Normally when they drive past they, blow their horn at us,” Kight said.
In some places of the canal, the clear water makes it easy to see the bottom. Fish dash by and the surface of the water sometimes ripples as they go. In other parts, which Kight thinks can be as deep as 40 feet, the water is mysterious and dark.
Cusick and Kight have visited the Crystal to swim, fish and meet with friends for about 20 years, but they are worried they may have to fight to keep the swimming hole open after a gruesome alligator attack on Sunday left a young man without a hand.
Tim Delano, 18, was attacked by a 10-foot alligator while swimming in the canal with friends Sunday evening. The gator clamped its mouth around Delano’s left hand and then severed it when the teen got away.
Friends drove Delano a couple of miles to get help. Delano was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital, where he is recovering. A tracker, sent by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, later trapped and killed the gator.
Delano wants people to stop swimming at the Crystal. “I hope they shut it down, so no accidents like this will happen again,” he said.
Kight said what happened to Delano was a first.
“It was a freak accident,” Kight said.
Although Cusick and Kight were the only mid-afternoon swimmers at the Crystal Monday, Kight said there were about 75 people there Sunday.
People were listening to music, barbecuing and swimming in the canal, according to the couple.
“It’s just a hangout,” Kight said.
Parents bring their children to swim and fish.
“The kids are never unattended,” Cusick said.
The day of the accident, Kight and Cusick left before it got dark, around 7 p.m., because they won’t swim in the Crystal past sunset.
“A gator feeds at night like a shark does,” Kight said.
Unlike Delano, they have seen gators in the waters before. “Any canal you go in there’s a chance,” Kight said.
Kight learned what happened to Delano from a television news report later that night. He knew it was the Crystal right away.
“I recognized a tree,” Kight said.
There’s still a dried pool of blood where Delano stood after he got out of the water. Kight pointed it out on the dirt road. He said they are glad Delano survived, but they’re worried their favorite swimming hole won’t.
“It would really bother me if they shut it down. There aren’t places to swim,” Cusick said.
She thinks it might be a good idea to post signs warning people about the potential dangers or to let them know what to do to stay safe.
“Everyone knows anyway, but to refresh their memories,” Cusick said.
But if there is a push to ban people from swimming in the Crystal, Kight said he’d start a petition to fight it.
“There will be a lot of people to sign it,” he said. “It’s the last swimming hole we have in Naples.”