Tanya Faye Rippy, 32, and her children Jaylon, 5, and Trevor, 9, were boating on the Suwannee River near Fanning Springs when a sturgeon leaped out of the water and struck them at 8:47 p.m, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission press release.
The family was airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Jaylon died as a result of severe head trauma, according to Officer Brad Stanley, public information officer for the North Central region of the FWC.
Rippy and Trevor are not currently listed in the hospital directory, said Rossana Passaniti, media relations coordinator for UF Health.
Chiefland attorney Sunny Prevatt Baynard started a GoFundMe page Friday to help cover the family’s medical and funeral expenses.
Baynard could not be reached by phone, but wrote in a Monday evening update to the page that Trevor has a broken arm and loose teeth, and Tanya has broken teeth and a broken eye socket that may need reconstructive surgery.
“We know that $ cannot bring back their little angel— but we can help make that at least one thing that they do not have to worry about in the upcoming months as they face all of these medical procedures and changes in their lives,” Baynard wrote. “We are just so thankful for everything that you give.”
As of 11:30 a.m. on July 8, 464 donors had given a total of $22,700 to the fundraiser.
Jaylon’s funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Langford-Rogers Memorial Funeral Home in Chiefland.
Stanley said sturgeons can weigh up to 200 pounds and have sharp ridges on their bodies.
Seven people, including the Rippys, have been injured by jumping sturgeons on the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers this year, he said. Jaylon’s is the first death from a sturgeon strike on the Suwannee River that has ever been reported.
Karen Parker, public information coordinator for the FWC, said the fish are jumping more than normal this year due to low water levels on the rivers. No sights of jumping sturgeons were reported in 2013 or 2014, when water levels were higher.
To avoid injury boaters should drive slowly, always wear life jackets, stay off the fronts of boats and be aware that sturgeon can jump anywhere in the river between spring and fall, Parker said.
“We certainly don’t want to scare anybody off the river by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “But people need to be aware that these fish are jumping.”