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12-foot gator pulled from downtown Miami creek

A 12-foot alligator weighing more than 400 pounds, described as among the largest ever caught near downtown Miami, was hoisted from a creek Monday by a fire truck.

The alligator was discovered in Wagner Creek, about 16 miles from the Everglades, in the vicinity of two major hospital complexes, a Veterans Affairs medical center, a courthouse, a county jail and government office buildings.

It was "about the last place you'd expect to see an alligator of any size," said licensed trapper Todd Hardwick.

Hardwick and others wrapped a rope around the middle of the gator and attached the other end to a ladder fire truck, which hoisted the reptile out of the water, over a 4-foot fence and a row of parked cars. Then Hardwick and two wildlife officers sat on the gator while an assistant secured its jaws shut with duct tape.

Under Florida law, the alligator cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its size, Hardwick said he will try to find a farm, zoo or other facility to keep it in captivity. Otherwise, it will be destroyed.

Celebratory New Year's

gunshots kill and injure

ORLANDO _ A man was killed when a bullet from a high-powered rifle fired in celebration on New Year's Eve fell from the sky and hit him in the chest, officials said.

In a similar incident in Miami, a woman was wounded when a bullet struck her in the upper right arm.

Henry McDaniel, 75, was walking in an Orlando area neighborhood on Friday just before midnight when he collapsed in the street, witnesses said. He had been at a party and decided to visit another house.

Before he collapsed, McDaniel told friends, "Boys, something hit me." Doctors at Orlando Regional Medical Center found a bullet that struck his heart.

In Miami, police said Modesta Valladares, 66, was hit while sitting outside, celebrating with her family minutes into the New Year.

In both cases, officials blamed the common, though illegal, practice by New Year's Eve revelers of shooting guns into the air.

1,500 black bear sightings

in 2004 are state record

ORLANDO _ Black bear sightings hit a record and 130 of the threatened species were killed on Florida roads last year, the result of sprawling development and busy roads, officials said.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials logged more than 1,500 reports of bear sightings statewide in 2004, topping the former high of 1,340 in 2002.

Meanwhile, vehicles killed about 130 bears across Florida in 2004, just short of the record high of 133 in 2002, according to commission reports.

Black bears are protected in Florida because of a steep drop in their numbers over several decades. More than 3,000 are estimated to be in Florida, with the Ocala National Forest and the Apalachicola area having some of the largest populations.

_ Wire reports