Rick LePrevost was holding two of his children in his arms, splashing in the water of Tampa Bay on Friday morning when he felt something bump his leg. It was a 9-foot shark.
"Get the f--- out of the water!" LePrevost cried, hurling 8-year-old Adam and Lindsey, 6, toward his friend's boat before he bobbed under water.
The shark bit LePrevost in the abdomen and left ankle, calf and back and front thigh, Bayfront Medical Center surgeon Steven Epstein said after the victim's two-hour surgery. The 31-year-old Largo man was reported in good condition later Friday.
"This was his first time on the boat with me. It was a disaster," said fellow St. Petersburg Fire Department paramedic Jake Nyhart, 26, of St. Petersburg Beach.
It was a week ago that the two men started planning a Friday sail, deciding to take LePrevost's three children along as a beginning-of-summer treat, Nyhart said.
The children _ Adam, Lindsey, and 5-year-old Austin _ had never been on a sailboat before, said their mother, Karen LePrevost.
Nyhart said the five set sail about 10:30 a.m. Friday in his 29-foot Lancer sailboat, dubbed Mischief. As they reached a point about a mile east of the St. Petersburg Pier, the wind died.
"The kids got bored, and we decided to go swimming," Nyhart said. The five were playing a game with a rope tied off the end of the boat. Nyhart would help the children onto the boat one at a time, and they would jump off and swim to their father, who was hanging onto the end of the 10-foot rope, Nyhart said.
After about 15 minutes of the game, Nyhart heard screams and began helping the children into the boat. "I was saying, "Man, it must be a stingray. It must be a stingray,' " Nyhart said.
Just as LePrevost pushed the children to safety, the shark came back. Nyhart said he doesn't know why the shark finally left LePrevost alone after attacking him twice.
Helping the crying children below deck, Nyhart helped LePrevost onto the boat and radioed Coast Guard officials, who responded within 10 minutes.
LePrevost tended to his own wounds, wrapping them in a towel.
"The kids were scared, and they saw all the blood," Nyhart said. "But we made them stay down below."
LePrevost was taken to Bayfront Medical Center by Rescue One truck, the same fire rescue vehicle he travels on during his workdays, said David Fraser, acting spokesman for the St. Petersburg Fire Department.
Paramedics said LePrevost's injuries could have killed a child, and shark experts aren't sure how the animal, thought to be a 9-foot bull shark or lemon shark, chose its victim.
"The color of the clothes (each person was wearing) could have made the difference," said Phil Motta, a marine biologist at the University of South Florida. LePrevost was wearing red swim trunks at the time of the attack.
George Burgess, a shark expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, said LePrevost could have been victimized simply because an adult extends deeper into the water than a child.
At 5:30 Friday afternoon, LePrevost was "in a lot of pain" but out of danger, Epstein, the surgeon, said.
Paramedics, firefighters and hospital rescue workers praised LePrevost's bravery.
"We want to nominate him for father of the year," Fraser said.
How to avoid a shark attack
Don't swim alone.
Don't swim at night or at dusk or dawn.
Don't swim if bleeding from a wound or if menstruating.
Don't wear shiny objects that might look to a shark like the flash of a swimming fish.
Don't wear brightly contrasted bathing suits.
Don't swim too far from shore or near steep dropoffs where sharks may lurk.
Don't swim where sewage or effluent is in the water.
Don't swim near schools of minnows, mullet or other baitfish.
Don't splash too much.
If you see a shark, calmly leave the water.
_ Compiled by the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville.
Shark attacks in the greater Tampa Bay area
Here is a chronology of shark attacks in the greater Tampa Bay area.
Date Location Name Fatal?
5-2-89 St. Petersburg Beach withheld + no
8-17-85 Gulf of Mexico, 27 Thomas Robert Sewell yes
miles west of Bayport
9-15-81 Passage Key, between Mark Meeker yes
Anna Maria Island and
7-20-81 St. Petersburg Beach withheld + no
8-78 Tampa Bay Gussie Kushmer no
8-1-69 Treasure Island, Robert Wamser no
St. Petersburg Municipal
6-17-68 Egmont Key Paul Hughes no
5-16-59 Indian Rocks Beach June Goldback no
7-28-58 Sarasota Douglas Lawton no
6-17-22 Tampa Bay, off Dorothy McClatchie yes
St. Petersburg city
before Tampa Bay, Gadsden withheld + no
1921 Point (now MacDill AFB)
+ International Shark Attack File contains confidential information from medical reports
_ Compiled by Times researchers Debbie Wolfe and Steve Resig from the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, International Shark Attack File and Times files.
Color: Dark gray to brown
Size: Up to 9 feet and 600 pounds, though most are smaller.
Characteristics: Blunt, rounded head, rough skin and triangular, serrated teeth. Cruises for food around bridges, piers, channels.
Range: Atlantic from Brazil to North Carolina; especially abundant in Gulf of Mexico.