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Scary story nears happy ending

The wife of a sheriff's deputy, Courtney Parker is always braced for the worst. She just didn't think that feared call would come while her husband was off duty, romping around in the woods with another deputy.

Brandon Parker, 28, a former Law Enforcement Deputy of the Year, was moved out of intensive care at Tampa General Hospital on Monday, two days after he suffered a life-threatening rattlesnake bite to his left calf.

He is likely to be hospitalized a couple of more days, but is expected to make a full recovery.

His wife of 3-1/2 years was finally able to smile with relief as she talked to reporters about the whirlwind 48 hours that started with her husband's benign noontime hike with a good friend and colleague.

"You kind of brace yourself for those phone calls," Courtney Parker, 26, said, "but not for a snakebite."

Deputy Robert Bateman, 28, was more serious as he reflected on the incident Saturday in eastern Hillsborough County.

He was hiking ahead of his buddy when he heard Parker yelp. The pair were only about 50 yards from the trail head at English Creek Environmental Study Center east of Plant City when Bateman turned and realized Parker had been bitten by a Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Parker froze in his steps after the potentially fatal attack.

So, Bateman quickly moved him from the coiled 6-foot snake, pulled out his off-duty pistol and fired at the reptile before calling 911 to request paramedics and a helicopter.

Within five minutes, as the two traveled back toward the trailhead, Bateman said, Parker was already starting to lose muscle control of his legs and arms.

Bateman called Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe to bring his all-terrain vehicle out to the park. Bateman had hiked with the judge there before. Tharpe, he reasoned, knew the trails in the park and might be well-equipped to help transport the deputy out.

Bateman attempted to carry his 220-pound friend as he began to lose consciousness, but he needed help. Within 20 minutes, Hillsborough Fire Rescue Lt. James Anderson and Tharpe reached Bateman and Parker. Anderson carried Parker on his back, too, until they hit a clearing and were able to get Parker to a helicopter.

It took a total of about 50 minutes after the bite before Parker was on his way to the hospital, Bateman said. But every minute seemed to last a million.

"It felt like an eternity," Bateman said Monday, still clearly emotional over the episode.

Neither of the men knew how this story was going to end.

Parker was calm, Bateman said, but he talked to his friend about a lot of important things in those moments - family and more.

To know on Monday that Parker would likely return to his wife and 14-month-old daughter without any serious or lifelong complications left Bateman more than relieved.

"I've had two sleepless nights," he said. "It's been bad."

Courtney Parker extended her thanks to everyone who assisted her husband. A school resource officer at East Bay High School for the past year, Brandon Parker received plenty of support from his school community, too.

Courtney Parker said she was pleased with the story's ending. And, for the record, that's exactly how she's decided to view this event:

"It's a good story," she said. "He's pretty lucky. He'll be back, defending everybody, defending East Bay."