After a two-week search that has cost the city almost $50,000, the hunt for "Reggie" the alligator is on hold -- at least for now.
Park officials on Friday called off the search for the 6-foot alligator that has caught the attention of scores of spectators and reporters who have flocked to Harbor City's Lake Machado to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature.
Reggie's would-be captors from Florida's reptile theme park Gatorland packed up their gear about 5:30 p.m. and headed out of town. The lake remains fenced, however, and park personnel are posted there 24 hours a day.
"We are considering this halftime," said Gatorland crew leader Tim Williams, 56, who has been handling alligators for 30 years. "He's won the first half."
Williams' four-man crew has advised park officials to keep calling Reggie's name and to continue leaving him tortillas, chicken legs and other items he likes in hopes that he will re-emerge. He was last spotted at 10 p.m. Sunday.
"He's spooked; he knows something is up," Williams said. "He may never be seen again. It may be that he pops up after everybody gets back here, or you may not see him for six months to a year."
Williams' crew has spent the last week scouring the lake with fishing nets in an attempt to snare Reggie. He noted that there are plenty of frogs and crayfish for the big reptile to feed on, and there's space to swim.
"If I were an alligator, this is a great place to live, a beautiful alligator habitat," he said. "Hopefully, he'll come back to the spot he was comfortable with."
Two San Pedro men were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of dumping the alligator into the lake two months ago after it became too big to control in a neighborhood yard. They face felony charges of conspiracy to possess illegal exotic animals and possible drug charges.
On Friday, Torrance resident Lori Sawon, 44, was among a handful of spectators who turned out in hopes of catching a glimpse of the alligator.
"I just want to see him, to be the one to spot him first, to say there he is," said Sawon, who kept watch at the park for several hours with a binocular. "I think it'll be nice for him to stay out and get some freedom; he deserves a break."
Sawon, whose aunt lives in Florida, where alligators are common, said there has been too much fuss over Reggie. She suggested the city turn the lake into an alligator sanctuary.
But Abraham Amezcua, 35, who has made good money the last week selling hundreds of $10 alligator T-shirts with the words "You'll Never Catch Me" emblazoned across them in English and Spanish, had another idea. The Wilmington resident said he hopes that if the gator is caught, it will be taken to the zoo.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn said the city has spent about $50,000 so far trying to corral the animal.
"That's a large amount of money to spend for someone's pet alligator," she said.
Williams said the failure to nab the creature was a disappointment.
"We'd love to give him a big ol' kiss on the lips and say welcome home," Williams said.