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Blunt force trauma killed woman struck by ray

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Woman suffered brain injury, multiple skull fractures, medical examiner rules
  • Spotted eagle ray leaps from water, strikes woman on boat, officials say
  • Victim was 55-year-old woman from Michigan
  • Spotted eagle ray weighed 75 to 80 pounds, official says
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A woman who died after she was hit by a spotted eagle ray leaping from the water off the Florida Keys suffered "multiple skull fractures and direct brain injury," a medical examiner said Friday.


The dead spotted eagle ray lies on the deck of a boat in Florida.

Judy Kay Zagorski, 55, of Pigeon, Michigan, died Thursday of "blunt force craniocerebral trauma" after the ray hit her when she was in a boat, Monroe County medical examiner Michael Hunter determined.

He gave no indication in the preliminary report whether the blow from the ray itself or her head hitting the deck, or both, killed her.

"It's just as freakish of an accident as I have heard," said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "The chances of this occurring are so remote that most of us are completely astonished that this happened."

Zagorski was on the boat with her father and other family members and friends. She was seated or standing in the front of the vessel as it was traveling about 25 mph out of a channel, Pino said.

"The ray just actually popped up in front of the vessel," he said. "The father had not even a second to react. It was too late. It happened instantly and the woman fell backwards and, unfortunately, died as a result of the collision."

The accident happened off the coast of Marathon Key, about 2 hours' drive south of Miami. Zagorski was taken to the Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon, where she was pronounced dead. Video Watch marine officers work around dead ray on boat »

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Pino said he had seen rays leap into the air, but added, "it's very rare for them to collide with objects." Video Watch experts explain why eagle rays leap »

The spotted-eagle ray weighed about 75 to 80 pounds and had a 6-foot wingspan, Pino said. Video Watch officials investigate eagle ray collision »

Florida Fish and Wildlife said eagle rays "are not an aggressive species, but they do tend to leap from the water." Spotted eagle rays can have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can weigh 500 pounds, it said. Learn more about eagle rays »

Television personality Steve Irwin was killed when a ray's barb pierced his heart in September 2006.


A month later, an 81-year-old Florida man, James Bertakis, survived after a ray leaped from the water and stung him in the heart, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

He spent five weeks on a ventilator and his recovery took several months, his sons told the Detroit Free Press in his former home state of Michigan. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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