By Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel
March 24, 2013
When a pushy 7-foot alligator tried to break through a chain-link fence onto the Clermont Middle School campus on Thursday, Lake County mom Jessica McGregor took charge.
McGregor, who's also a Lake County deputy, didn't want to wait nearly two hours for a distant trapper to show up and cart the offending party off to his destiny as an expensive purse. Especially when the final bell of the school day was ringing and parents were picking up students.
"I've lived in Lake County my whole life. Back in the day, you had these things come up on your land, and you just caught 'em up and threw 'em back in the nearest watering hole," said Jessica, 29.
"You didn't feel the need to waste anybody's time."
No, of course not. Shooting is a quick and effective disposal option, but it's so messy. Not to mention that it freaks out parents and sends students home screaming.
"Kids walk right down that sidewalk by the fence and it was slashed open in some places. I didn't want to risk the gator getting scared and breaking through the fence and getting into traffic on Pitt Street or grabbing a kid," she said.
So the mother of two daughters — one pre-schooler and a toddler — fetched 30 feet of rope, tied a noose and lassoed the would-be intruder.
She dragged him out of bushes where he'd hidden and hung onto him when he tried to make a break for the retention pond from which he likely came.
"I got him turned around and he started to spin and flop and jump. Once he got tired, he just laid there and wiggled his tail. I threw the rope over him and dropped down with my knees behind his front legs," she said. "He jerked around a little bit and just gave up."
Jessica got her hands around the creature's snout to keep his jaws closed and pulled his head up. She taped up his jaws and stood up.
While all this was going on Thursday afternoon, a Clermont police officer who had been called to the scene watched from a safe distance.
"He told me straight up, 'I have no idea how to handle alligators.' I said, 'That's OK. You wait till I get him ready,'" Jessica said.
The Clermont officer proved useful in keeping gawkers away. Well, except for one.
"A guy on a moped was trying to take a picture. I'm like, 'Really dude? You need to leave — I don't need a distraction,' " Jessica said.
Indeed. Wrestling an obviously ticked off prehistoric crocodilian requires focus.
Jessica said she learned this particular skill from her brother Evan Bailey, who works as a clerk in the sheriff's records department and who is hoping to land a job as a deputy.
His reaction when he heard of his sister's exploit: "Why didn't you call me?" Yeah. Clearly, this is not a family that worries about the retention of limbs and digits. They don't have to ask who won because they already know.
The pair used to capture alligators for fun as they were growing up off Oswalt Road south of Clermont back when U.S. Highway 27 was two lanes.
"I wanted to be with my brother, so I had to be tough," Jessica said.
Her mother used to get annoyed when they proudly dragged their catch up to the front door. "You can't just catch those and bring them home," her very practical mom would patiently explain.
Now that Jessica is a mother with children of her own, the first thing she's going to do when the girls get big enough is initiate them into the delights of gator wrestling, right? Maybe they could start with a 3-footer and a snazzy pink noose. They'd have the best show-and-tell at Clermont Elementary, yes?
"Eh, no," Jessica said emphatically. "No way."
Lritchie@tribune.com. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.
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