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Gator's would-be captor survives

Scott Arnhold said the alligator on Owen Drive would have been his 57th capture. Then it cut itself loose and turned on him.

By JORGE SANCHEZ
Published June 1, 2004

[Times photo; Stephen J. Coddington]
Scott Arnhold needed eight stitches to close the wound on his right eyebrow, where an alligator's claw slashed out at his face. Arnhold said he was trying to "detain" the animal until help arrived.
[Times photo; Stephen J. Coddington]
After biting into the skin around Scott Arnhold's left knee, the alligator went into a "death roll." Arnhold suffered these lacerations to his right forearm as the gator rolled him on the road.

INVERNESS - A blanket covered the alligator's eyes. The rope that tied its front leg to the back of its neck was also wrapped thrice around its snout.

Scott Arnhold, kneeling atop the 11-foot gator's head, figured he had the situation under control.

Arnhold, who said he has captured dozens of gators before, wanted to "detain" the alligator that was menacing traffic and threatening people Saturday night on Owen Drive.

"I only wanted to immobilize him until a state officer could come and get him, because the gator wasn't moving off, and there were children and small animals all around it," Arnhold said.

But the alligator apparently sliced through the rope with one of its claws. That uncoiled the rope from around its snout. Arnhold knew that meant trouble for him.

"I didn't want to stand straight up, because he would have snapped my head off," he said. "So I sort of leaned into him and then he bit me."

The alligator chomped down on Arnhold's left knee and went into a "death roll," in which the gator's jaw clamps down on its prey as it rolls over rapidly several times. The move is meant to dismember the victim.

"There really wasn't a lot of pain," Arnhold said.

The bite tore off a sizable patch of skin covering Arnhold's knee but did no damage to the bone or tendon. He also received a cut on his right eyebrow from a slashing gator claw that took eight stitches to close.

"And there's all this road rash," Arnhold said, pointing to the lacerations on his right arm caused by the death roll on the asphalt.

"I think he just had a piece of me inside his mouth, decided I wasn't a food source and basically spit me out."

The attack, which occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, was witnessed by several residents of the area. Arnhold, who lives a block away on S Spaniel Terrace, said he was going to the store when he spotted the gator in the roadway.

The gator, measured by Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agents as 10 feet, 8 inches long, was lying on Owen Drive, just a few blocks from the Inverness Golf and Country Club.

"It snapped at our car," said Amanda Huebsch, 16, who was riding with her friend, Sarah Wren, 18, and her sister, Ashley Huebsch, 13. "It bit at our front tires."

The three girls got out of their car as Arnhold approached.

"We saw him put the blanket over its head, and it seemed to calm down," Amanda said. "But when it cut the rope with the claw, it just stood up on all fours and bit the man. It started rolling around with him in its mouth."

After the gator turned him loose, Arnhold said he moved off to the side, and the alligator stayed put, hissing and opening its jaws.

Arnhold was taken to Citrus Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released. He thinks the skin will grow back on his knee. He is taking antibiotics to ward off infection.

A few minutes after the attack, a Citrus County Sheriff's Office deputy arrived and shot the gator once in the head with a rifle.

Arnhold said he has captured and moved many alligators and rattlesnakes from his neighborhood, where he has lived for 10 years.

"We take them on an airboat to a new habitat out in the lakes," he said. "This would have been my 57th alligator."

Fish and Wildlife officials say that moving or catching an alligator is against the law, but they won't be charging Arnhold.

"We figured he's learned a pretty painful lesson," said Karen Parker, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.

Wildlife commission investigator James Smith said he thinks the gator came out of one of the canals located in the marshy area off the road. According to Smith, capturing, harassing or killing an alligator is a third-degree felony.

Smith said anyone who encounters an alligator should call the commission's Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

"We have trappers who will capture the animal," Smith said. "They have the experience and the equipment to do the job. It's not a good idea to attempt to capture the animal yourself.".

Arnhold, 45, said he didn't know that catching alligators was illegal.

"I've been catching them for many years, first in Louisiana and now here," he said. "I guess I'll be getting me a trapper's license."

- Jorge Sanchez covers Citrus County arts and entertainment and can be reached at 860-7313. Send e-mail to sanchez@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 31, 2004, 19:25:08]

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