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Authorities trap alligator that drew a crowd in East Lake

EAST LAKE — Pinellas County sheriff's Lt. Richard Nalven is no stranger to dealing with rogue alligators wandering through residential areas abutting ponds or lakes.

In fact, alligator-restraining was part of his police academy training in the 1980s.

Still, Nalven said, he was a bit taken aback when he arrived at Ridgemoor Boulevard and Valemoor Drive in East Lake at 7:30 p.m. Monday to find an 8-foot alligator strolling on the sidewalk — along with about two dozen residents gawking and snapping photos on their cell phones.

"Maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew," Nalven said Tuesday afternoon as he recounted the adventure, "but I wasn't going to back down from the challenge."

Nalven, a 22-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, was dispatched to the site after one of the residents in the group of spectators watching the alligator called police. Armed with little more than handcuffs, leather gloves and a rudimentary restraining pole, he got to work.

With the help of a sheriff's volunteer and a former deputy, Nalven looped nylon rope around the alligator's neck and tied it to a tree, he said. To ensnare the animal, he used a device fashioned out of rope running through 5 feet of PVC pipe.

Nalven, 42, said he made the apparatus himself one weekend at his home after dealing with an alligator in Oldsmar several years ago. Now he keeps it in the trunk of his patrol car, and has had to break it out about six times since then.

"I don't think a Taser would work on an alligator," he joked.

After the animal was tied to the tree, Nalven and volunteer Matt Fowler blindfolded the thrashing gator with rain jackets tossed over its head. That allowed Nalven and former Deputy Stephen Mitchell to use handcuffs to bind the alligator's hind legs, cover its eyes with tape and place large plastic zip ties over its mouth. Nalven said while gators clamp down with tremendous force, the muscles for opening their mouths are relatively weak.

"He was under arrest, for all intents and purposes," Nalven said.

While Nalven, Mitchell and Fowler grappled with the alligator, residents crowded on the sidewalk about 50 feet away to witness the spectacle. A few drivers parked on the side of the road and took photographs.

Susanne Webb was among the onlookers who watched the men capture the gator. She lives just a few blocks from where the animal was caught, she said, and she often sees smaller alligators in ponds along Ridgemoor Boulevard.

Residents in the area usually call police once they spot an alligator that has grown larger than 3 feet long, Webb said, so she has never seen one there nearly as big as Monday night's 8-footer.

"It was huge, it was absolutely huge," Webb said. "They did a great job with it. They were very brave."

Nalven said the alligator was particularly dangerous because it was crawling next to the bushes on the edge of the sidewalk — a perfect spot for snatching up a pet accompanying an oblivious owner, or a jogger listening to an iPod, he said.

Trapper Charles Carpenter of Animal Capture of Florida took the gator away. He said it was too large to be relocated.

Alligators turn up every few days in Pinellas County, Carpenter said.

"There was nothing special about it," he said. "It was just an alligator."

He questions why wildlife seen in developed areas is such a spectacle. After all, he said, the animals were here first.

Carpenter, based in Seffner, returned to the county a couple of hours later to deal with another alligator call. This time, an 8-footer had been run over on at Ulmerton Road and Lake Avenue SE in Largo.

He applauded Nalven for bringing the East Lake gator under control using materials on hand. Still, Carpenter replaced the work with more secure bindings.

The tape was "not really something I'd want to rely on," he said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Authorities trap alligator that drew a crowd in East Lake 06/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 8:02pm]
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