Trappers capture alligator that attacked woman at lake


A nearly 13-foot-long alligator suspected of dragging a woman into a lake in Davie was trapped and killed Friday afternoon. Evidence recovered from the reptile indicates it bit the victim, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“The FWC believes that the victim is deceased and we will continue recovery efforts on the lake with local authorities,” spokesman Rob Klepper said in an email.

Davie police and the FWC declined to confirm the victim’s identity. But five people who came to the park said they were relatives and friends of the missing woman, who they identified as Shizuka Matsuki, of Plantation.

“This tragedy is heartbreaking for everyone involved, and our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim at this time,” Klepper said.

The woman was walking her dogs near the lake in the Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park when she vanished, Davie Police Maj. Dale Engle said.

A witness told police her dogs were barking near the water in the 5600 block of Southwest 52nd Street but she had vanished.

“Her dogs won’t leave the pond,” Engle said Friday morning when the search began. “One of her dogs got bit by the gator.”

The gator measured 12 feet, 6 inches, Klepper said.

Trina Gonzalez, who lives in Davie, said she visited the park last year and a large gator swam up to the bank of the lake where she and her son had been fishing.

“My son threw the bread in the water to feed the little fish there and as we walked away, that gator was there in a heartbeat,” Gonzalez said. “We never went back again.”

She said she’d heard that other park visitors treated a large gator like a mascot and had sabotaged traps set for it.

But Jeff Pohlman, Davie’s assistant parks director, said the town has not received any reports of interference with the traps from trappers or residents.

Pohlman said the town has hired three trappers in the past 18 to 24 months to try to catch an alligator reported to be in the lake. But it was never caught, and there had not been reports of a sighting in the past four weeks, he said.

It’s impossible to know if the reptile that visitors have reported to authorities was connected to Friday’s investigation, he said.

Myrna Bernard and her daughter, Rachel Bernard, 18, live south of the lake and said alligator sightings are not rare.

Rachel Bernard said she was out by their pool with friends at about 1:30 a.m. Friday when the family’s pit bull, Tony, began behaving strangely.

“Tony runs out the screen door, he slams it open, he runs into the woods with this low bark growl and I’ve never we heard my dog [sound] like that,” she said. “He goes in the woods and he never goes in there, so I knew something was in there.”

She heard a hissing sound and believes it was coming from a gator. Tony later returned home, unharmed.

Alligators live in all 67 of Florida’s counties, and as development encroaches wetlands and waterfronts, people can expect to encounter the reptiles, the wildlife commission says on its website.

The FWC has a nuisance hotline — 866-392-4286 — to report concerns about gators.

During the last decade, the agency has received about 16,000 gator-related complaints each year.

Alligators make national news when they show up in homeowners’ swimming pools or at their front doors. Nuisance gators taken by trappers are usually destroyed.

Though alligator encounters are fairly common in Florida, the state averages only “about five unprovoked bites per year,” the wildlife commission said. Since 1948, it said there have been 300 incidents when alligators have bitten people, and 22 have died.

The state said among local deaths by alligators, a 36-year-old man died while swimming across a pond in November, 2007 in west Miami. An alligator “seized and drowned” him in the water at the Miccosukee Indian reservation.

Witnesses reported the man disappeared while trying to elude police. Divers found his body at the bottom of the pond, and two gators — one 9 feet, 4 inches long, the other 7 feet, 6 inches long — were removed from the pond.

In Broward County in May, 2006, a 28-year-old woman was killed by an alligator at the North New River Canal in Sunrise. An 9-foot, 6-inch alligator was caught and destroyed, according to the state.

The FWC advises:

— It’s illegal to feed alligators in Florida. They’ll also lurk near anglers to eat fish scraps.

— Keep pets away from the edge of waterways.

— Never swim outside of posted safe swimming areas or in water that may have alligators. Also, swim during daylight hours.

— Keep dogs and cats away from water that may contain alligators. Dogs also attract ‘gators, so don’t swim with your pet.

This story will be updated. Check back for more information.

ljtrischitta@sunsentinel.com, 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta

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