Local Man Attacked by Gator

It's one of the all-time battles: man versus nature. And sometimes, man gets hurt, especially when it's an 11-foot alligator you're talking about.

Dean Beckelhimer, a landscaper on Hilton Head Island, was spraying some bushes right next to a lagoon this week when the gator attacked out of nowhere. That landscaper says he knows he's lucky have escaped with his life.

Beckelhimer had his back to the lagoon at Carolina Place and never heard it coming. "It was like a linebacker," he said.

"The alligator obviously is an alpha male," said wildlife biologist David Henderson. "Territorial male at 11 feet and simply reacted in a defensive posture, reacted in a territorial manner and was just making a point."

The people who live in the area call the gator Bruno. When he let go, it caught Beckelhimer off guard. "I'm completely in his mouth, I knew I was going to die," he said. "Only thing I could think to do, I said, 'Please God help me.'"

Now Bruno's days are numbered.

"We have a balancing act between the needs of the wildlife and the people and visitors along the line of safety," said Henderson. "So we don't really have a choice."

"I don't have anything against Bruno, but he has to be eliminated," said Beckelhimer.

"We had an incident where a man and an alligator got together, and we can't have that," said Joe Maffo of animal control company Critter Management.

The hard part is finding Bruno. After the attack, Bruno didn't go very far. He was hanging out in the middle of the lagoon when they tried to get him, but their hooks wouldn't sink through the weeds.

Bruno's territory could cover close to a hundred acres, but wildlife experts say the lagoon is one of his top priorities, and it's just a matter of time before he shows up again.

Beckelhimer says he's worked around that lagoon for 20 years now, and says Bruno's been there the entire time. He's got no problem continuing to work there, but says from here on out, he and his employees will work in teams of two, just to be safe.

Wildlife experts say one very important thing to take away from this incident is that people should never feed alligators. One reason Bruno even got so close to a human in this case is that he may have been fed in the past.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com