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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 18, 2003 at 20:33:46:
TAMPA TRIBUNE (Florida) 17 April 03 Alligator's Death Haunts Woman Who Sought Help (Tom Jackson)
New Port Richey: The sound, Beth Richards says, was like someone taking a bat to a side of beef. WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! When she closes her eyes, she hears it again. And again. And again.
WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!
``Terrible,'' Richards says.
As the capable right arm of syndicated radio talk show host Bruce Williams, Richards occupies an office overlooking a small, moss-green lake in a horseshoe business plaza near State Road 54 and Old County Road 54. Few activities that occur beyond her window escape her notice.
``There's always something going on out there,'' she says.
Wooden decking runs behind offices on the lake, attracting innumerable young, rarely bothersome, anglers when the weather warms. But when two apparent fishermen in their mid- 20s turned up Monday afternoon, Richards' sense of mischief tingled.
The pair fished outside her window for a while, then dashed back in the direction they had come from, leaving their poles. Soon, the sharp reports of rhythmic bludgeoning began.
Richards raced out, attempting to identify the activity through the slats of the deck. Silence. She summoned her colleague, Denise Mattimore, to keep watch while she dialed 911. More silence. But when both business phones rang, the women had to abandon their posts, and the fishermen scrambled. One drove their red Ford Ranger around a barricade and backed it near the shore. Together, they wrestled a 7-foot alligator, trussed in fishing line and dazed, into the truck's bed.
Caught In The Act
By now, Richards and Mattimore were back, screaming things you can't print in a family newspaper. Except this: ``You morons!'' They recognized the gator as one that had given birth to approximately a dozen babies in November. ``That was a pretty big event around here,'' Richards says. She recalls seeing the alli-tots sunning on a log in a line, and another time when one spent a day riding on Momma Gator.
Caught in the act, the outdoorsmen were briefly defiant, until Richards revealed she had given the truck's license plate number to authorities. ``Now cut it loose and put it back!'' she snapped.
They did as ordered, then sped away. Back in the lake, Momma Gator lolled belly up for a while, then thrashed right side up and soon submerged.
Only A Matter Of Time?
Somewhat later, Henry Perez, an investigating officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, arrived. Because the state and national governments list alligators as ``a species of special concern,'' the perpetrators, whose names have not been released, might have violated any number of state and federal laws. That was little consolation to the women, who sobbed over failing to intervene earlier.
``I'm no gator lover,'' Richards says, ``but I hate to see any innocent animal senselessly beaten.''
Perez tried to be reassuring. ``Alligators are resilient,'' he said. But he hadn't heard the beating; because they had, Richards and Mattimore feared the worst.
Wednesday afternoon, their fears were realized: Momma Gator broke the lake's surface, white belly toward the sky.
Killing an alligator without a permit is a third-degree felony, punishable by five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
Given that, Wednesday afternoon, things got very interesting for the unnamed outdoorsmen. Perez knows who they are, and, reports are, he is not pleased.