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Would-Be Gator Wrangler From Louisiana Is Snared

A Hurricane Katrina evacuee who tried to catch Reggie the reptile is arrested as a fugitive.

November 14, 2005|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

Reggie, the elusive alligator haunting Harbor City's Lake Machado, wasn't the only one on the lam.

The brash, charismatic Hurricane Katrina evacuee who had claimed that he could wrangle the gator was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department 3 1/2 weeks ago and turned over to Louisiana officials on Nov. 5 for being a "fugitive from justice," Deputy Oscar Butao said Sunday.

Thomas "T-Bone" Quinn, 47, had fled his hometown of Marrero, La., when the hurricane swept through at the end of August. He arrived in Los Angeles with others who were brought here by the Dream Center, a Christian ministry based at the former Queen of Angels Hospital. Three weeks later, he pledged to camp next to the lake in Harbor City until he trapped Reggie, who was allegedly dumped there by his former owner.

Butao said his records do not indicate why Quinn was a fugitive. But his mother, Sandra Quinn Barton, 66, said that her son was convicted of writing bad checks around 1991 and had lately stopped meeting with his probation officer.

"It wasn't like he was hiding," she said Sunday from her home in Augusta, Ga. "There was all the stuff here on the news about him, even here in Georgia."

Barton said she hadn't talked much to her son in the last four years, but that he started calling nearly every day when he arrived in Los Angeles and talked breathlessly about his new life here. He had been a welder on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico before the hurricane, she said.

On Oct. 26, he called to tell her he had been arrested. Quinn told his mother he had gone to a sheriff's station Oct. 20 because a friend had been arrested on suspicion of driving drunk on a motorcycle and Quinn was supposed to pick up the keys and store the bike. A deputy apparently asked Quinn for identification and, running his name through a computer, found out that Quinn hadn't reported back to a probation officer in Louisiana, Barton said.

Barton said she was worried something like this would happen.

"I said, 'Tommy, you better call your probation officer,' " Barton recalled. "I told him that every day. He said, 'Mom, what I'm doing here is too important. The people here think I'm refreshing.' "

Barton said she hasn't heard from her son since he called from Los Angeles and that's why she figures he's probably in a jail somewhere in Louisiana. "I probably won't hear from him until his probation officer gets him to call," she said.

Efforts to reach Louisiana prison officials were unsuccessful Sunday.

Lately, Quinn had been spending most of his time trying to raise funds for victims of the hurricane, his mother said. Los Angeles city officials had stopped his hunt for Reggie more than a month ago because he had no liability insurance and no known credentials.

Janice Hahn, the city councilwoman who invited him to join the other gator wranglers at Lake Machado, said she was taken aback when she heard of Quinn's arrest.

"Recreation and Parks did a background check and, apparently, what they told me is that it came back clear," she said.

Hahn said she learned of Quinn from a Times reporter investigating a hoax report that a Colorado alligator hunter had snared Reggie. Quinn had boasted that there was no gator he couldn't catch.

"I'm the kind of person who believes the best of everybody," Hahn said Sunday. "All I knew was he was an evacuee who had lost everything in Louisiana."

Meanwhile, Reggie is still on the loose.

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