NEW PORT RICHEY — Something moved in the shadows. Denise Anderson peered close and then froze. Next to the used Toyota Sequoia she planned to test drive was an alligator.
"I saw its eyes. Mouth. Its jaws. Its teeth," said Anderson, 33.
It measured 8 feet 7 inches.
Now, Anderson isn't a runner.
"I don't run," she said.
But she sprinted in her flip-flops "like Speedy Gonzalez," according to Michael Chaparro, 24, the Sun Toyota salesman who was walking over to assist her when he heard her scream Tuesday morning. He thought she had seen a spider.
The car lot is at U.S. 19 and State Road 54, one of west Pasco County's busiest intersections. It's all concrete, asphalt and engines — nothing that says, "Please check under your car for alligators."
"She was freaking out, jumping, like a football high step," Chaparro said. He couldn't understand what she was saying, so he walked to where she pointed, between the cars and then back toward the rear. The gator had slipped under a Toyota Highlander by that time.
He crouched down to get a look. And then he freaked out.
"It was hissing," he said.
He called 911. Deputies came from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and cordoned off the area. A licensed trapper was called. Chaparro said deputies had a time trying to keep the swelling crowd back.
The gator "looked scared," Anderson said. She kept her distance. The only other gator she had seen was in Busch Gardens.
"You know, a place where they aren't going to hurt me," she said.
Chaparro documented the incident with his Blackberry and later, in his cubicle in a back corner, put together a video to the music of Michael Jackson's Beat It — chosen, he said, because the alligator had to go.
"Check this out. Look at the size of this freakin' gator," he said, reviewing his video, which he hoped to post to Sun Toyota's Web site, www.suntoyota.com. "And look at the trapper. He's barefoot.
"Tell me that's not freakin' crazy."
The trapper prodded the gator from under the car, lassoed it and tethered the rope to his truck. Chaparro said he asked the man if he was going to release the creature back into the wild.
"And he said, 'Yeah, I'll release it — into my cooler,' " Chaparro said. "He said he was taking it back to Dade City to eat it."
Mark Lewis, a duty officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said trapped gators that measure 4 feet or longer are "generally disposed."
Spring is when gators are active. "This time of year, we are inundated with calls," Lewis said.
Chaparro said there are some canals behind the dealership and he figures that's where the gator came from — probably either looking for love, as it's mating season, or food.
The buzz of excitement from the incident lingered hours later.
"Man, it was an awesome day," Chaparro said.
Anderson, a nurse and mother of three from Hudson, quaked for some time afterward.
"You don't expect to see an alligator at a car dealership," she said.
But she did stay for a few hours, to put through some paperwork to possibly buy a car.
But not that one.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]