TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A driver was killed after their vehicle hit an 11-foot gator Thursday morning along Country Road 672 in Lithia, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
The incident occurred at about 12:30 a.m. on Country Road 672, approximately two miles west of County Road 39.
An agency spokeswoman said the driver, John Hopkins, 59, was heading east, while the gator was in the roadway. The front of his vehicle struck the reptile, then the vehicle went off the road and rolled into a ditch.
A passing motorist noticed Hopkins’ car in the ditch and called 911.
Hopkins died at the scene, the spokeswoman said. The alligator was also killed.
Hopkins’ family told 8 On Your Side the 59-year-old was on his way home from work when the crash happened. His sister said he recently started a new job.
The scene of the crash is less than one mile from Hopkins’ home where he lived with his mother and brother. The Lithia man is being remembered as a jokester and all-around family man.
“He will be missed by the whole family,” sister Jane Pyzynski said. “He loved his family and we loved him.”
The family has lived in the area for decades and said they’ve never heard of a crash involving an alligator.
Capt. Phil Walters of Gator Guides, however, said it is not that uncommon, especially during this time of year.
“There are calls coming out across the state especially this time of year for alligators on the highway and it is not just alligators,” Walters said. “We have all kinds of wildlife out there and the wildlife is coming out. It is spring now, they are moving around, it is getting ready to be mating season and they are looking for a new habitat. So it is imperative that you be very much aware of your surroundings on the highway.”