After the second person in about two years died in an alligator attack, wildlife experts and law enforcement officials this week stressed to South Carolinians that fatal episodes remain rare and that assaults on people are few and far between.
The insight from officials comes on the heels of an incident Monday morning at a resort community on Hilton Head Island, where Cassandra Cline, 45, was killed after a gator dragged her into a lagoon and pulled her underwater around 9:30 a.m., authorities said.
Cline was a New York kindergarten teacher who owned property at the resort.
Alligators often show up on porches and in backyards in South Carolina. One was blamed for a car crash in May that killed a mother and her two children on a swampy stretch of Interstate 95 near Holly Hill.
But before Cline's death Monday, only one other person in the state's history was known to have died in an alligator attack. In July 2016, a 90-year-old woman with dementia wandered away from a West Ashley assisted-living facility, where investigators said she likely fell into a nearby pond, rousing the attention of an alligator. The Charleston County coroner ruled that Bonnie Walker died of wounds inflicted by the animal.
In all, there have been 20 recorded alligator incidents in South Carolina since 1976, said Sam Chappelear, a regional assistant chief of wildlife at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"Unfortunately, it's two instances, and it's two too many, but I don't think there's any correlation there," he said. "They were two totally separate incidents, and I don't see anything in common with one another."
Cline was walking her dog along the lagoon near Wood Duck Road when an alligator lunged from the water in an effort to snatch the pet, Chappelear said. Instead of seizing the dog, he said, the gator snagged the leash and pulled Cline into the lagoon.
Cline reached to release the dog from its collar, but the alligator pulled her under, Chappelear said. The dog escaped without serious injury.
Authorities later killed the 8-foot alligator.
Coroner officials gave no update Tuesday on the woman's cause of death.
School officials in Endicott, N.Y., where she worked, on Tuesday mourned the death of their colleague.
"Casi was a dedicated teacher, working with our youngest students in their first year of school," the officials said in a statement to The Post and Courier. "She was a sweet, kind individual who was respected by her colleagues and loved by her students and their families."
Sea Pines Plantation, the resort community where Cline owned property, occupies 5,000 acres and serves as a habitat for many birds, mammals and reptiles. Alligators are a common sight.
Ron Russell, owner of Gator Getter Consultants in Berkeley County's Bonneau, has worked to manage the alligator population across the Palmetto State for about three decades and has served for 20 years as a gator control contractor for DNR.
People often don't understand that alligators generally do not perceive humans as threats; therefore, the animals are not typically a problem, he said.
In the instances in which people were injured by alligators, they were almost always too close to the habitat or trying to feed the animals, Russell said.
Russell suspects that Cline's dog got too close to the water and that the pet was the original target.
"This incident was very, very unique," he said.
Goose Creek Reservoir — a 600-acre impoundment in Berkeley County roughly 100 miles northeast of the site of Monday's attack — is known by many as a gator haven.
Boaters, fishermen and Indigo Island Reserve residents, who live at the bank of the water, said they regularly come across the reptiles while fishing. They see the critters slithering on neighborhood streets and idling on the banks of retention ponds.
Residents tell tales of gator tails swiping against their garage doors or blocking neighborhood roads. It's not uncommon here, residents said, to hear the high-pitch snarls of young gators crying at night.
Alligators here are just a fact of life.
Mike Womble has lived there since the development was established 12 years ago. He has photos of an alligator trying to cross the neighborhood causeway. Wamble also tells the story of a mother pushing her baby in a stroller before dashing off the sidewalk at the sight of an alligator resting near the road about 20 feet in front of her.
“It’s nothing to see a gator sitting with its mouth open,” Wamble said.
Michael Copeland has lived in Indigo Island Reserve for the past five years. While he has never seen a gator in his yard, he spots them in the reservoir nearly every evening. A regular boater, Copeland said the largest gator he has seen was about 13 feet.
Russell, of Gator Getter Consultants, emphasized that people who live near any body of water need to be constantly aware of their surroundings.