Leaping sturgeon injures Florida woman
OLD TOWN, Fla. - A sturgeon jumped out of a river and hit a woman riding a personal watercraft causing severe injuries, the latest accident involving the flying fish along the Suwannee River, officials said.
Sharon Touchton, 50, of St. Petersburg, suffered a ruptured spleen and had three fingers reattached by surgeons, but she lost her left pinkie finger and a tooth.
She had been camping March 31 with a group of personal watercraft enthusiasts near the town of Suwannee in north Florida, said Karen Parker with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The group went for a ride and Touchton was traveling 25 to 30 mph before the accident.
Touchton's husband was the first to come up behind her after the accident and found her floating face-down in the water. No one else saw the collision, so it was initially unclear what had happened.
"I thought she was dead," said Nick Touchton, her husband. He remembers dragging her out of the water. She wasn't breathing and he could see that she had bitten through her tongue and it was swelling, choking her.
Her fingers had been sheared off by the sharp edge of the sturgeon's bony plate. They were hanging by a strip of flesh.
She was taken by helicopter to Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where surgeons did their best to mend her injuries.
Parker said once Touchton was able to talk to investigators, she simply said something about a "big fish."
Parker said problems with sturgeon â€” which are large, prehistoric-looking fish with hard plates along their backs that can grow up to 8 feet long and up to 200 pounds â€” came to a head last year when 10 people were injured in accidents caused by the jumping fish.
Parker said the Gulf sturgeon migrate into the Suwannee River in March to spawn, and remain in the river until the fall. Researchers are not sure why the large fish jump.