It’s a fairly unusual occurrence for Eastern North Carolina residents to encounter a potentially dangerous reptile out in the open, especially when driving down a busy four-lane highway.
As Craven County resident Dineen Wright and her husband, J.D., were driving eastbound on U.S. 70 Monday afternoon just west of Havelock, it happened to them in the form of a 5-foot-long American alligator.
“I was talking on the phone and I was just like ‘hold up — there’s a gator in the road,’” Dineen Wright said. “I had never saw one before like this and I was shocked that he was so close to the highway.”
The Wrights stopped their car and shooed the gator away from danger and into a muddy, overgrown ditch where the gator nestled in.
Facing a dilemma on what to do next, Dineen Wright said she called Animal Control.
“Animal Control told me that there was nothing they could do with an alligator, so I tried to call the Wildlife (Resources) Commission, and it was after 5 p.m., so they were closed and we couldn’t get in touch with anyone,” she said.
They then contacted a nearby resident, Ricky Dickerson, to try and get some help.
“I told him, ‘Um, you’re not going to believe this, but there’s something across from your yard that I need your help with — an alligator,’” she said.
J.D. Wright said he had encountered a wild gator before in Carolina Pines years before and said that prepared him for this encounter.
“It just reminded me a lot of that one, kind of the same situation,” he said. “I got a level from Ricky and a rope and made a lasso with it and looped it around his mouth and he did his death spiral or whatever it is they do until he tired himself out and we put a cloth over his head and that was it.”
The Wrights said they knew they should have continued to try to contact someone with the Wildlife Resources Commission, but they had too big a heart to let the creature get hit by a car.
“I just couldn’t let him get hit and knew we had to help him.” Dineen Wright said.
Dickerson’s son, Josh, covered the gator’s face with a towel, picked it up and put in a pickup truck so they could release the wandering beast in a nearby creek farther away from civilization.
“We wanted to get him somewhere he could be let go and not in danger,” Dineen Wright said.
J.D. Wright echoed his wife’s sentiments on the safety of the gator.
“Twelve foot from the road was just too close for us to leave him, with him being a young gator and only about 5-foot,” he said.
Even though their hearts were in the right place, state Wildlife officials advise not moving alligators. Instead, they say any wild gator encounter should be handled by staying away from the animal.
American alligators are a threatened species in North Carolina, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission advises people to leave the animals alone if they see one in the wild.
The ncwildlife.org website states that feeding and harassing alligators is illegal; the Wrights and Dickersons did neither. The main purpose of the Wrights’ adventure and moment of excitement was to get the gator back among the four-legged creatures and away from the four-wheeled ones.
If you encounter an alligator, contact the Wildlife Resources Commission at 1-800-662-7137.
Jordan Honeycutt is a reporter for the Sun Journal.