Was that a smile on his toothy snout, or was Reggie the reclusive reptile just humming "See You Later, Alligator," as he floated Monday across a Harbor City pond?
Stunned visitors at Lake Machado near the Harbor Freeway watched as Reggie resurfaced after an 18-month absence to spend 90 minutes leisurely gliding near a park observation deck.
"He looked back at us with a bewildered look in his eye," said eyewitness Mike Molina, an aide to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
The sighting caused a flurry of shoreline excitement as parks workers hurriedly began erecting safety fences and rangers were deployed to keep parkgoers safe from Reggie -- and vice versa.
Hahn hurried to the lake at dusk as a crowd gathered. By then, the alligator had once more slipped beneath the 40-acre lake's murky waters.
"He showed himself for a couple of hours. I don't think any of us thought he was dead. I guess we'll have to call the gator-wrangling teams back," Hahn said as she inspected photos taken Monday of Reggie by park maintenance worker Todd Wales.
Professional alligator hunters, including a self-proclaimed gator expert uprooted from the swamps of Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina, and a team from Gatorland in Florida, spent months in 2005 unsuccessfully searching for Reggie after the creature was allegedly dumped in the lake by owners who considered him too big to keep.
The hurricane refugee, Thomas "T-Bone" Quinn, had angered the Floridians by calling their use of a pontoon boat in the lake "retarded." Insulted, they piled ashore and headed for home, with Gatorland team leader Ted Williams sniffing: "I will not allow some swamp rat to walk into a situation and make comments.... I am not going to allow Gatorland to be referred to as 'retarded.' "
Less than a month later, Quinn proved that Reggie wasn't the only one on the lam: Quinn was arrested on a Louisiana probation violation charge.
Hahn said she planned to call associates of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, whom she said volunteered his team to search for Reggie. Irwin was killed by a stingray off Australia's Great Barrier Reef last September.
In the meantime, Hahn said, she is hoping to obtain restitution from two men who have been charged with dumping Reggie in the lake in mid-2005. Ex-Los Angeles police officer Todd Natow and a friend, Anthony Brewer, both from San Pedro, were arrested after an anonymous tip led investigators to the pair. Authorities said Reggie had grown too large for a backyard pool where he was being kept.
Brewer pleaded no contest to a state wildlife law violation and was sentenced to probation. Natow, with the LAPD from 1984 to 2001, has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges tied to Reggie's possession and lake release.
"We've spent $180,000 at last count on public safety here because of Reggie," Hahn said.
Reggie's fans, meanwhile, were hoping that the reptile -- now grown to an estimated 7-foot length -- stays visible for a while this time around. Some point out that city officials quickly relocated a smaller alligator caught in September 2005 in a Harbor City drainage ditch to the Los Angeles Zoo.
"I could grab his tail and catch him," said 4-year-old Corien Yokley, visiting the lake late Monday with Harbor City family members.
Three-year-old Anthony David Reyes, also of Harbor City, was certain he'd spy Reggie. "I've seen him before. Right here," the boy bragged.
His father, automotive worker Marco Reyes, was certain Monday's gator was Reggie. "What are the chances of somebody dumping another alligator that size into this lake?" he asked.