Rescuer Swam With Shark to Assist Teen

Chris White was vacationing on a Florida Panhandle beach when he heard cries for help and leaped into the water to assist a 14-year-old girl, not knowing she had been fatally injured by a shark and he would soon be swimming with the killer animal.

"I saw an empty boogie board, no rider," said White, 23. "At first I thought she had maybe drowned or gone under."

But Jamie Marie Daigle, who had been swimming with a friend about 100 yards from shore, had been bit in the leg by a shark. The flesh had been torn on one leg from her hip to her knee, exposing her bone.

Swimming out to the bloody scene, White passed Daigle's friend, 14-year-old Felicia Venable, who was swimming frantically back to shore.

"She couldn't tell me anything," said the state health inspector and volunteer firefighter from Carrollton, Ga., who recently completed EMT training. "She was pretty hysterical."

When White and another man with a raft reached Daigle, surfer Tim Dicus had already put the unconscious girl on his board.

"He was yelling `There's a shark, there's a shark!'" White said. "He was looking for the shark, I grabbed her, pulled her up into the raft."

The shark returned as the trio pulled the girl to shore.

"Tim hollered `He's here, he's here! There's the shark!'" White said. "Immediately, I looked down and he was swimming at my feet. We stopped swimming, just went limp vertical in the water, just dangled my legs, tried not to look like any kind of food or anything."

White said the surfer distracted the shark. Dicus said he punched it in the nose.

The others continued bringing Daigle to shore, but paramedics were unable to revive her.

An autopsy was planned for Monday, and a shark expert was invited to attend to help determine the type and size of the shark involved, said Walton County sheriff's Capt. Danny Glidewell.

Daigle, of Gonzales, La., had been vacationing with friends while the rest of her family was home.

After the attack Saturday, a 20-mile stretch of shore was closed to swimmers, with twin red flags warning people to stay out of the water, but beaches reopened Sunday with a double staff of sheriff's beach patrol officers, Glidewell said.

A makeshift memorial of painted sand dollars, a boogie board and a magnolia was created on the beach where Daigle was brought to shore. Someone wrote in the sand, "Bless U."

Residents of a condominium complex next to the beach where the girl was attacked said they spotted a shark that looked about 6 feet long Sunday morning.

"It was just right at the shoreline," said Jason Miller, who lives in a 10th-floor condo. He took pictures of the shark chasing fish while people stood in the white surf.

Florida averaged more than 30 shark attacks a year from 2000 to 2003, but there were only 12 attacks off the state's coast last year, according to statistics compiled by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History.

George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File at University of Florida, said Sunday that bull sharks are common in the area, are aggressive and can be found in shallow water. He said that of 500 documented attacks in Florida, the fatality rate was 2.4 percent.

"Sharks are one of many hazards that one may encounter when entering the sea," he said. "There is no reason to think that this is the beginning of a trend."