Orange County Police were called to Burkart's Marina near the Louisiana state line early Friday morning after reports that Tommie Woodward, 28, and an unidentified woman were swimming in a bayou and had been attacked by a large alligator.
Woodward's body was found several hours later. The woman was not injured.
Orange County Justice of the Peace Rodney Price told CNN affiliate KFDM
that Woodward ignored verbal warnings and a posted "No Swimming Alligators" sign and seemed to mock the deadly creatures before going in the water.
"He removed his shirt, removed his billfold ... someone shouted a warning and he said 'blank the alligators' and jumped in to the water and almost immediately yelled for help," Price said.
The "No Swimming Alligators" sign was posted this week after a 10-foot alligator was spotted in the bayou waters.
Witness heard 'An alligator's got him'
"Please do not go swimming, there's a bigger alligator out here. Just please stay out of the water," witness and marina employee Michelle Wright said she told Woodward.
She said the next thing she heard was the woman screaming, "An alligator's got him." Wright said she used a flashlight in the darkness to scan the water.
In an emotional interview with KFDM, Wright said, "I saw his body floating face down. And then he's out there for a couple of seconds and then he's dragged back down. And then he comes back up still face down and then he gets pulled down again. And then he just disappears."
Wright, who said she knew the victim and his family, said it was a moment she would never forget. She described the events that started out as a late night swim as "heartbreaking."
Woodward had recently moved to the area from St. Louis with his twin brother and was working at a nearby shipyard.
'If the sun is down, stay out of the water'
Alligators are predatory and territorial. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife
, the creature "will eat anything it can catch," and should be treated with caution.
"If the sun is down, stay out the water. That's when they're eating. That's when they're hunting," alligator expert Arlie Hammonds told the affiliate.
Although there have been numerous fatal alligator attacks in Florida, the Orange County attack may be the first of its kind in Texas.