In the Florida fugitive version of out of the frying pan and into the fire, 20-year-old Bryan Zuniga was pulled over by Tampa Bay police while driving on a suspended license when he decided to make a run for it — or actually, a swim for it. He ducked under a fence and swam across a lake figuring the far shore was a safe place to rest. He was wrong.
“I turned my head around and I saw this big head,” Zuniga said in a jailhouse interview with Bay News 9. “It was massive and I knew it was an alligator as soon as I saw it.”
^ Wounded Brian Zuniga arrested after alligator attack
“I put my arm up as soon as I saw it,” he continues. “The moment that I moved and saw it, it lunged at me and attacked me.” At this point Zuniga says he was in a life or death battle.
“In those spilt seconds he put me in a death roll and I was fighting for my life and I did not know what to do. I just kept punching it, trying to grab its jaw, trying to open it, kick it, push it away from me,” he said. “In those moments, I did something to make him open his mouth and he released me.”
After escaping the jaws of death, Zuniga managed to walk to a nearby hospital emergency room and get treatment for the injuries to his face, neck and arm. It was there that police caught up with him and booked him on charges including fleeing and eluding an officer, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and resisting an officer without violence.
In a separate jailhouse interview with WTSP (video above), Zuniga suggests his escape was a sign. “God gave me one more chance, and to really realize to stop acting like a child and make adult decisions,” he said. He expresses regret at his decision to run from the officer, saying, “I would’ve had no charges and I wouldn’t be here right now. Or got bit by a gator.”
So why did he run? According to Zuniga, he didn’t know that the car pulling him over was a police car. (Huh?) “[It was] one of those moments that you just don’t think and you just react,” Zuniga tells WTSP. He says he later realized that it was a police officer, but by then it was too late. “I was too scared to stop, because I thought he was going to tackle me or taze me or something. He just got really mad, ’cause I ran. And I just, like, couldn’t stop,” he said.