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Alligator clipped: They say they’ve got Reggie

Times Staff Writers

A 6 1/2 -foot alligator believed to be Reggie -- the elusive reptile that has been the subject of a closely chronicled “gator watch” since being illegally let loose in 2005 -- was captured and subdued by city workers Thursday afternoon on dry land beside Lake Machado in Harbor City.

The creature, after being wrestled down and tied to a gurney, was whisked off to the Los Angeles Zoo for a brief physical and quarantine for 30 to 90 days.

The Reggie adventure was capped by an almost O.J. Simpson-like media spectacle, with the reptile being taken away in an animal control truck, its lights flashing, and surrounded by a phalanx of five other vehicles, including park police. Meanwhile, TV news helicopters stayed in close pursuit, and footage of Reggie’s motorcade was broadcast live.

At a news conference at the zoo, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn told reporters that she was in a 3 p.m. meeting with parks and recreation officials to reassess their strategy for capturing Reggie when they received the news that the alligator had been caught. They had gathered in Hahn’s San Pedro office -- her district includes the park where Reggie had been living -- to prepare for next week’s planned arrival of associates of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, who were invited by Hahn to help out.

But when the news from Lake Machado arrived, “we all jumped up and raced to our cars” and headed to the scene, Hahn said.

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Reggie had emerged from the lake and made his way into a chain-link enclosure -- a big trap, actually -- that had been set up by zoo and parks and recreation workers Tuesday. He was caught by Ian Recchio, a reptile expert at the zoo, with a long pole-and-loop device used to catch dogs.

Workers duct-taped the alligator’s mouth shut, wrapped his head in a T-shirt and strapped him on a gurney for the journey to the zoo.

“It was an unbelievable day -- and at the end of the day it was city of L.A. employees who caught him, not alligator wranglers from somewhere else,” Hahn said. “Who said we don’t do gators?”

The councilwoman said she was convinced that the city had its fugitive gator. “He looks like Reggie to me,” she said. “We were petting him, talking to him.... I feel like I know him.”

Not everyone was so sure, however, that the alligator at the zoo is the same one that surfaced and became a local sensation in 2005.

Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles’ Department of Animal Services, whose staff was not involved in the capture but whose office provided the truck for the gator’s transport, said “a number of experts” are skeptical.

“The size of this alligator is somewhat larger than Reggie, and there would not have been enough time for Reggie to grow to that size. So maybe instead of Reggie One, this is Reggie Two,” he said.

Boks noted that all urban lakes and parks are dumping grounds for unwanted exotic pets. And Gregory Randall, a wildlife specialist with the city agency, added: “It’s not like Reggie was tagged. There’s no way to prove definitively that this is the same Reggie. That water is not exactly high-quality water.”

Still, most officials proceeded as though they had the right critter. The gator presumed to be Reggie promptly received a medical exam at the zoo.

“We want to make sure he doesn’t have any cuts or abrasions, and if he does, we’ll treat them. We’re not doing an extensive physical. He’s already been through too much stress today,” said Dr. Curtis Eng, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.

Asked how he would examine a 6 1/2 -foot gator, he replied: “Carefully. I’m sure he’ll be restrained.”

Initial reports were that the animal was in good shape.

One of the main heroes in the capture was Kevin Regan, an assistant general manager with the city’s parks department, who came up with a plan to nab Reggie. As Regan explained it, he visited the lake Sunday and deduced that Reggie would periodically come ashore by a particular cove, apparently to sun himself.

“I went down there and found the area he was coming through,” Regan said. “All of the vegetation was matted down, and I found this one pathway that it seemed like he was using.”

So on Monday, Regan asked for permission to build a big enclosure with chain-link fencing near the lake’s southwest shore -- with a 10-foot opening facing the water where Reggie could be lured in, and a swinging door that could be slammed shut.

The work was finished Tuesday, but Reggie wasn’t drawn inside right away. He spent Wednesday floating around the lake.

But about 2 p.m. Thursday, Reggie made his big mistake. As a parks staffer watched, Reggie headed in -- and the door was closed on his nearly two-year adventure.

“We knew with the weather heating up and his tendencies that this could happen and, in fact, it happened real quick,” said Jon Mukri, chief of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department.

City officials, including Hahn, have said the alligator needed to be removed from the lake to protect parkgoers, but not everyone was pleased by Thursday’s developments.

“I’m disappointed. My wife called me at work, and I got on the company radio and announced, ‘Poor Reggie’s been captured,’ ” said Danny Gutierrez, a longshoreman from Wilmington.

Gutierrez and his wife, Gloria, hurried to the lake in hopes of catching a glimpse of Reggie before he was hauled away. “It was nice to have him here. You met people you would never see who were here looking for him. It was exciting to come with a chair and your binoculars.”

Gloria Gutierrez -- wearing a handmade T-shirt reading “Welcome back, Reggie” and decorated with images of an alligator -- added: “Now I’ll have to go to Los Angeles to see him.”

Leroy Martinez, a gang-intervention worker from Harbor City, said he “was here all day and left for just a half hour and, when I came back, he was gone. I’d love to see Reggie close up. I hate to see him go.”

The county has spent at least $180,000 on the nearly two-year effort to nab Reggie, first spotted in Lake Machado in August 2005. Professional alligator hunters spent months searching for him after he was allegedly illegally dumped in the lake earlier that year by owners who considered him too big to keep any longer in a backyard pool.

Two men were arrested and charged on the basis of an anonymous tip: former Los Angeles Police Officer Todd Natow and a friend, Anthony Brewer, both from San Pedro.

Brewer pleaded no contest to a state wildlife law violation and was sentenced to probation. Natow, who was with the LAPD from 1984 to 2001, has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges.

Where Reggie will stay for the long haul remains as murky as some of the waters he has traversed. Denise Verret, assistant general manager at the zoo, initially said there was no room to house Reggie. “We don’t have a place right now where we can put him,” she said. “We’re trying to find another facility to put him.”

But City Councilman Tom LaBonge responded a few minutes later: “We want to find a permanent home for him here.”

steve.hymon@latimes.com

ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

Times staff writers Carla Hall, Bob Pool and Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A gator’s tale

Aug. 12, 2005: A gardener at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park spots an alligator darting across Lake Machado. The creature is estimated to be 6 to 8 feet long and weigh nearly 200 pounds.

Aug. 16, 2005: Alligator wranglers from Colorado are flown in to trap the renegade reptile. Capture appears imminent.

Aug. 18, 2005: Unsuccessful alligator wranglers return to Colorado. The search is suspended because the gator is becoming too agitated by all the human activity. Meanwhile, the gator has been given the initial moniker of “Harbor Park Harry.”

Aug. 23, 2005: A four-man gator team arrives from Florida. One, Tim Williams, describes himself as the “dean of gator wrestling.”

Aug. 24, 2005: Two San Pedro men -- one a former Los Angeles police officer -- are arrested on suspicion of dumping the alligator in the lake. They tell authorities the gator is named Reggie.

Aug. 26, 2005: After the city spends almost $50,000, the search for Reggie is suspended.

Sept. 8, 2005: Ronnie -- another, much smaller alligator also dumped in the lake -- is recovered by firefighters.

Sept. 13, 2005: Word spreads that Reggie is caught. It’s a false alarm.

Sept. 17, 2005: Another alligator hunter, Thomas “T-Bone” Quinn of New Orleans, takes up the search for Reggie. He is taken off the job the next day when city officials determine he has no liability insurance and no known credentials.

Sept. 18, 2005: Florida gator hunters, here since Aug. 23, give up and go home. Reggie disappears.

Nov. 5, 2005: Quinn is arrested by sheriff’s deputies and turned over to Louisiana authorities as a fugitive from justice. The charge apparently stems from a probation violation on a 1991 hot check conviction.

Dec. 29, 2005: The two San Pedro men are charged with dumping Reggie in the lake. City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo says he will seek $155,000 from them -- the amount it has cost to look for Reggie.

May 1, 2007: Reggie reappears after an 18-month absence.

May 24, 2007: Reggie is captured ... or is he? Stay tuned.

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Los Angeles Times


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