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Man found dead in Largo lake in possible alligator incident

Authorities believe the man was retrieving flying discs from the water.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are pictured by the lake in John S. Taylor Park, where a man was found dead Tuesday morning. Police believe he may have been wading into the water to retrieve lost flying discs. Investigators are still trying to determine whether he was bitten by an alligator.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are pictured by the lake in John S. Taylor Park, where a man was found dead Tuesday morning. Police believe he may have been wading into the water to retrieve lost flying discs. Investigators are still trying to determine whether he was bitten by an alligator. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published May 31|Updated Jun. 2

LARGO — A man found dead in the lake at John S. Taylor Park on Tuesday may have been bitten by an alligator, authorities said.

The lake is next to to a disc golf course. Largo police said the man is believed to have waded into the water to retrieve flying discs.

People spotted an alligator near his body, and local authorities called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for help, said Officer Forest Rothchild, a spokesperson for the Conservation Commission’s law enforcement wing.

Investigators initially believed the man had drowned, Rothchild said. But when they responded about 9:30 a.m. they saw he had other possible injuries.

Police have not publicly identified the man, saying officers were still trying to notify his family early Tuesday. Rothchild said the man was 47 years old.

Related: UPDATE: Man found dead in Largo lake with alligator-related injuries is ID’d; 2 gators captured and killed
An alligator warning sign is pictured by the lake in John S. Taylor Park in Largo.
An alligator warning sign is pictured by the lake in John S. Taylor Park in Largo. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

People are not supposed to swim in the water, which Largo police referred to as Taylor Lake. Authorities said there are “no swimming” signs posted around the park.

A trapper was trying to capture the alligator Tuesday, according to the Conservation Commission. But Rothchild said the gator had not been caught as of about noon. Investigators were still trying to determine what, if any, role the animal played in the man’s death.

Charlie Goodpasture, 34, the owner of PureLine Disc Golf in Pinellas Park and a professional disc golfer, said the Taylor Park course is beautiful in part because of the wildlife.

”When people come to town, that’s one of the courses I point people towards to see the attraction of the large alligators,” he said. “It’s something I warn people about when they come to town, just because us locals know that there are quite a few gators there.”

Goodpasture said he thinks he knew the man who died, and the man was likely looking for discs to resell. A high-end disc can cost around $20 to $30 new, according to Goodpasture.

Ken Hostnick, 56, said he has played disc golf at Taylor Park for many years. He was there Tuesday, chatting up other players and sharing tips for how to toss a disc.

Hostnick said he didn’t know the man who died but is aware of people who try to gather lost discs.

”These are people that are down on their luck,” he said. “Sometimes they dive in the lakes, they’ll pull out 40 discs. You may sell them for five bucks a piece, and you may sell them for 10 bucks a piece, depending on the quality.”

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Another man retrieving discs was bitten in the face by an alligator at Taylor Lake in 2020. At that time, a state wildlife spokesperson said there had no been other reported alligator attacks in the park for at least 10 years.

A state-contracted alligator trapper walks by the lake in John S. Taylor Park, where a 47-year-old man was found dead in the water early Tuesday.
A state-contracted alligator trapper walks by the lake in John S. Taylor Park, where a 47-year-old man was found dead in the water early Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Alligators are everywhere in Florida, swimming and sunning themselves around lakes, retention ponds, rivers and golf greens. But attacks are rare. As of last November, no confirmed fatal alligator bites had been documented in the state since 2019, according to the Conservation Commission.

The park was mostly quiet Tuesday afternoon as investigators looked for the alligator in a small section of the disc golf course cordoned off by police tape. Visitors walked and biked around the lake, fringed by marshy grass. Dragonflies buzzed in thick, afternoon heat.

People should keep their distance from wild alligators and not feed them, the state says. Alligators’ mating season stretches through May and June.

Anyone worried about a specific gator is urged to call the Conservation Commission’s Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-392-4286.

Times Staff Writer Josh Fiallo contributed to this report.

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