VERO BEACH, Fla. — One day after a German visitor was bitten by a shark about 30 yards out from Humiston Beach, beach-goers are cautious and not venturing more than about 10 feet into the water.
"I got a little shaken," said Desiree Pulley, who recently moved to Vero Beach from Nashville with her husband, Jason, and son Nathan, 4.
The family was on the beach Wednesday when a shark bit Karin Ulrike Stei, 47, of Konstanz, Germany, taking a large section of her upper left thigh down to the bone, according to lifeguard Erik Toomsoo, who brought the woman in to shore.
"We were walking back to the Driftwood (Inn resort) when we heard the commotion, and went back out to the beach," Pulley said.
Stei had surgery on her leg Wednesday at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, and Thursday is in stable, but serious condition, hospital officials said.
Thursday, the yellow caution flag was waving and about three dozen people were out at 11:30 a.m., the time the shark attacked Stei on Wednesday.
"We had decreased beach-goers" than usual for a Thursday this time of year, Lifeguard Nathan Rieck said.
And those in the sun were staying closer to shore, venturing only about shin-deep into the ocean.
According to police, Karin Stei and friend Brigitte Schmid were swimming in waist-deep water when the incident occurred. Stei was approximately 30 yards from the shore and Schmid was approximately 20 to 25 yards from the shore when Stei was bitten.
Schmid told investigators she was not aware that Stei was in danger until she heard her yell "Shark." She turned to look at her friend and saw blood in the water near her. There were no other witnesses to the incident.
Toomsoo, the on-duty lifeguard at Humiston on Wednesday, said he was standing on the boardwalk steps when he said he heard a woman yell "Help, Shark!" at about 11:30 a.m.
He saw a woman in a "pool of blood" about 30 yards out from the Driftwood Resort, he said.
Toomsoo ran down and swam out to the woman, yelling to people on shore to call 911 as he brought Stei to shore. Many of the people who had heard the woman's screams were already on the phone calling, including Lisa Fioretto from Palm City, who heard the yells as she was videotaping her son skim boarding nearby.
Some construction workers and others came down to assist Toomsoo as he reached shore, including lifeguards Jordan Farrow and Shanna Beard.
"These guys went right in," said Gloria Shire, who was on the beach with her husband, Jim. "They didn't care if there was a shark in the water."
Jim Shire said he was just sitting back getting ready to read the paper when all of a sudden he heard Stei "yelling, screaming for help."
The Shires have been coming down from Milwaukee to a time share they have at the resort for 31 years, and this is the first time they have seen anything like they witnessed Wednesday.
"It's so upsetting to actually see that happen," said Gloria Shire.
The Shires don't go into the water except to wade, but others who normally swim out there were having second thoughts about re-entering the ocean anytime soon.
"I used to go in there every now and then, but I'm not going anymore," said John Rodighiero, an Illinois visitor who was sitting near the Shires when he also heard Stei screaming.
Among those who came to offer assistance were construction workers Scott Weston and Michael Curran.
"I heard a woman yelling, screaming and saw a black cloud around her," said Curran, who was working on an upper floor of the Driftwood Resort.
Curran and others described the women as back-paddling from the cloud, or trail, of blood.
Curran at first couldn't make out the yells and thought it may have been someone playing, but hurried down as soon as he realized she was in distress. His uncle, Scott Weston, jumped in to help Toomsoo pull the woman to shore while Curran called for assistance.
Off-duty lifeguard Beard, who also is a registered nurse, was sunbathing with her mom when she heard the commotion. All three lifeguards worked to stabilize Stei until emergency workers arrived.
Toomsoo said the woman was in shock but never lost consciousness. She was awake, alert and able to speak, Beard said.
"She's a very strong-willed woman," Beard said.
Toomsoo said people at the hotel provided assistance, and police and Indian River County paramedics arrived quickly.
A Martin County Fire Rescue LifeStar helicopter was in the area, coming back from an operational visit at the Sebastian River Medical Center, when one of the flight paramedics saw the trail of blood in the water and had the helicopter swing back around, he said.
"Everybody seemed to be in right place at the right time," Toomsoo said of rescuers.
Stei and Schmid are from Konstanz, Germany, and
are visiting a friend in Vero Beach, police said.
Toomsoo, who was being hailed as a hero, said "I was just doing my job. I just hope she's all right."
City lifeguards told people to stay out of the water Wednesday, but Recreation Director Rob Slezak said beachgoers should be allowed to enter water Thursday. He advised that people should swim only in areas where lifeguards are present.
Toomsoo described the attack as a "freak accident," saying that there have been pods of bait fish in the area with sharks following, but there have been no more sharks than usual.
"It just picked her for some reason," said Toomsoo of the shark.
It was not known what type of shark might have bitten Stei. Slezak said it likely was not a blacktip shark — commonly seen in the area — but which typically don't get bigger than 6 feet. "It was likely something larger," he said.