Saturday, November 25, 2017
Public safety

'Gator! Gator! Gator!' Reptile and cars collide on I-275

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG — The Toyota Scion was so new it didn't have any dings in its maroon paint. Its oil hadn't even been changed yet.

On the drive home along Interstate 275, heading north at 70 mph, the Scion suffered its first blemish in an unusual way.

"Gator! Gator! Gator!" Esther Foley shouted about 12:30 Sunday morning while riding shotgun.

Up ahead, near the Gandy Boulevard exit, an old truck walloped the tip of the alligator's tail.

Legs extended, mouth open and signature teeth bared, the gator bolted — right into the passenger side of the 2012 Scion.

"Like a battering ram," said 41-year-old driver Bruce Foley.

Esther Foley, 33, had to remind her shocked husband to pull over. There was no way the insurance company would believe this without a report, the Temple Terrace couple figured.

Deer and cars collide all the time. But how often does a car get T-boned by a 12-foot alligator crossing an interstate?

It's far more common to hear of alligators enjoying backyard pools, but Tampa Bay-area authorities say they field calls for the reptiles on roads — some of them heavily traveled — several times a year. A few months ago in Largo, a 10-foot alligator got stuck under a car that had rolled over it in traffic.

On this night, car and gator would meet again.

In the rearview mirror of the scuffed and dented Scion, Bruce Foley watched another car collide with the alligator — longer than the width of the lane — as it scrambled off the pavement.

"What's going to happen," he wondered, "when it goes the rest of the way across the median?"

About half an hour later, headlights heading south on the interstate hit a silhouette.

Verna Christopherson, 79, and son Mark were driving home to St. Petersburg, a few bucks richer after a night on the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino slot machines.

By the time they spotted the alligator in front of them on the highway, it was too late.

The car ran over it and launched several feet into the air.

The gator went flying, too.

"He was real fat," said Mark Christopherson, 56.

The 12-foot gator could have weighed up to 1,000 pounds, estimates Seminole trapper Vernon Yates, who had not been called out on this incident. Likely coming from the adjacent Sawgrass Lake, the alligator might have been a little scrawnier. The reptile was probably an older male that may have been wandering in search of a mate, he said.

The slow-moving creature would have needed to rest often to make it across two directions of multilane interstate traffic.

Verna Christopherson "kept it pretty cool" while driving, her son said, but he wouldn't let her get out after they stopped on the side of the road. He scraped a brown ridged scale off the underside of the car.

After wreaking $2,000 in damage to the northbound vehicle it encountered, the alligator left minimal marks on the Christophersons' car.

It caused no injuries.

But the last leg of the dangerous journey proved fatal for the alligator, which died on the side of the road.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

Comments
Newly engaged couple among three killed in wrong-way crash on I-75

Newly engaged couple among three killed in wrong-way crash on I-75

GIBSONTON — Last month, LaShay Waiters got down on one knee and proposed to Yvette Alexandre in front of a room packed with family and friends. She said yes.About two weeks ago, it was Alexandre’s turn to surprise him: She was pregnant. It wasn’t pla...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Car-sized hole from broken water pipe closes road in Valrico

Car-sized hole from broken water pipe closes road in Valrico

VALRICO — A large hole that opened in Valrico’s Bloomingdale neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day was caused by a broken water pipe, not a sinkhole, county officials said. The hole swallowed a Mini Cooper-sized chunk of Natures Way Boulevard, at the Elm ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Safety Harbor family, under attack from its pit bull, stabs the dog to death

Safety Harbor family, under attack from its pit bull, stabs the dog to death

SAFETY HARBOR — A pregnant 22-year-old had to stab her family dog to death after it "turned" on his owners Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Sierra Willson stabbed the dog after it began viciously attacking two other dogs and...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Woman, 51, robbed in Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, police say

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman was robbed after a man followed her to her car in a mall parking lot Thursday night and shot once at her, police said. The 51-year-old woman, whose identity St. Petersburg police are withholding, was not injured. She was walk...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Hernando deputies identify woman killed in Brooksville home

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on Friday identified the woman killed on Old Stage Coach Road earlier this week as 32-year-old Janet J. Carroll.Deputies announced earlier this week that Joshua Carroll, 32, had been arrested and cha...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Mounted police patrol Seminole Heights after killings

Mounted police patrol Seminole Heights after killings

TAMPA — A Florida police department is using horse patrols in a neighborhood that’s been plagued by homicides in recent weeks. Officials in Tampa have been searching for the person — or people — responsible for shooting and killing four in the Semino...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Tampa officer revives overdose victim in department’s first use of Narcan drug kit

Tampa officer revives overdose victim in department’s first use of Narcan drug kit

TAMPA — A Tampa Police officer administered the department’s first use of an overdose-reversal drug to revive a 27-year-old man on Friday.About 2 a.m., Tampa Police Officer Scott Seely responded to a call in east Tampa about a possible drug overdose,...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Police investigate suspicious package at Clearwater Babies"R"Us

CLEARWATER — Authorities evacuated a Babies"R"Us on Friday after reports of a suspicious package in a shopping cart.According to Clearwater police, someone noticed the package about 10:30 a.m. at the store at 21315 U.S. 19 N. The store was evacuated ...
Published: 11/24/17
Murky waters: Chartering the wrong boat can have tragic consequences

Murky waters: Chartering the wrong boat can have tragic consequences

Captain Dan Peretz noticed the same charter boats overloaded with passengers again and again. He thought, "This is how people die.’’ So he sent emails to the Coast Guard, sharing his concerns, naming specific boats, including the Jaguar....
Published: 11/23/17
Updated: 11/24/17
Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

LARGO — Sydney Pender, 27, loved riding her motorcycle, even though she knew the dangers. Three years ago, her friend said, a delivery truck hit her. But she kept riding. On Thanksgiving, it was a crash with a taxi cab that killed her.Pender, a St. P...
Published: 11/23/17