A close call with a crocodile in a country creek is the talk of Preble County on Thursday.
Locals are quick to tell you in Bantas Fork Creek, one expects to see a crawdad or a small turtle and maybe even a 4-pound bass from time to time.
But, not 7.5 feet of watery danger.
But as Facebook video from Hilltop Equestrian Center showed, a church group of children from the center encountered a crocodile around 7:30 Wednesday night.
Ten-year-old River Lowe stood on the wooden bridge that spanned the creek Thursday afternoon and told us: “It was right over there. Like, I saw a black shadow. And I could see its tail moving.”
She and the other young people were in the water at the time. Fortunately, an adult on the bridge spotted something dark and undefinable headed right toward them.
Rick Turnbull, an elder, was supervising the cooling summertime fun and described how the crocodile came right underneath the bridge and stopped right on the other side.
Vinnie Yuppa was among the 16 youth who followed their elders’ instructions and got an overhead view of the reason for that a moment later.
“His head, he just stuck it out, and we were all on the bridge leaning, looking at his eye and his head, and he was just staring at us,” said Jade Yuppa. “It was kind of creepy.”
It was 171 pounds of creepy, according to Ohio Agriculture Department officials.
It took four men to load the crocodile into a truck after a wildlife officer shot him for obvious safety reasons.
Jim Hazelwood, the administrator and one of three pastors at the center, thought his staff was kidding about the reptile sighting at first.
“My joke was I would’ve probably knocked four kids down, got to the shore and said, ‘I’m safe!'” he related with a hearty chuckle. “But, it was really impeccable how no one panicked.”
Turnbull observed how they have kids in the group who aren’t even 3 feet tall.
“And for a crocodile, they would have been lunch,” he stated with a sense of great relief that such a thing did not occur.
Safely separated from the sudden danger, they now revel in the lighter recollections, like one of the kids missing his shoe.
“One of the youngsters, Joshua, lost one of his Crocs, and it was floating on the water,” explained Hazelwood. “And one of the observers and the leaders on the bridge said, ‘Hey, look out, there’s a Croc in the water. And not more than a few minutes later, there actually is a crocodile in the water.”
Another group leader had just taught a spiritual lesson about predators in the cover of darkness and the importance of always seeking the light.
“Couldn’t stop thinking about it last night before I went to bed,” said Jade.
Hazelwood was impressed with the remarkable poise the children displayed and how their first words after the close call were how God had protected them.
The darkness of a potential tragedy was not lost on the group.
“You know, you’re heading down for a normal creek-stomping adventure, and you pray for safety,” said Hazelwood. “You think a kid might slip on a rock or cut his foot on some glass. You’re not thinking about crocodiles.”
Rich Denius, a third group leader who posted the pictures and video to Facebook, wanted to help warn families in the area to be aware
“I want to give Jesus all the glory for protecting these kids,”
Authorities said they have no reason to suspect there could be another crocodile in the creek.
Saltwater crocodiles are not native to Ohio.
They do not know how this one ended up in the creek water. It’s possible and likely someone released what was an exotic pet when it became too large and hard to manage.
The state Agriculture Department checked today to see if a microchip or tag could be found, but there was none.
The church group won’t let the experience deter any future creek visits and lessons.
But, the story of Wednesday night’s sudden scare will always be used to emphasize the importance of having a spotter on the bridge.