Alligator attack of woman in 2021 leads to lawsuit filed against Hilton Head Plantation

Drew Martin/dmartin@islandpacket.com

An alligator attack that occurred last year has led to a lawsuit against Hilton Head Plantation and The Rookery, a neighborhood in the area.

The lawsuit comes after a Sun City woman was killed in another attack earlier this year.

The attack took place on Sept. 2, 2021, when The Rookery resident Elsie Kyle was walking her dog near a lagoon behind her home, according to court documents. During the walk, Kyle and her pet were attacked by an “approximately eight (foot)“ alligator.

“Ms. Kyle struggled with the alligator and was eventually dragged into the lagoon, where the alligator held her underwater,” the court documents state.

Neither Kyle nor her attorney could be reached for comment.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 7, 2022, in Beaufort County Circuit Court. It accuses the Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners’ Association and The Rookery Community Association of “allowing an unreasonably hazardous and unsafe condition” to persist and “failing to take appropriate measures to prevent alligators from attacking the public.”

The attack resulted in “permanent injuries and disability,” according to the suit.

The most recent filing in the lawsuit came on Nov. 28, and it has since entered alternative resolution.

The lawsuit is another flashpoint in the long-standing debate on whether alligators and humans can or should safely share living space, particularly in a rapidly developing area, and a neighborhood’s responsibility to protect the public.

A similar lawsuit resulted from the death of Sea Pines resident Cassie Cline in 2018, who was killed by an alligator while walking her pet. That lawsuit was eventually settled.

While not fatal, the attack on Kyle is the seventh in Beaufort County since August 2018, with a number of them involving people walking small dogs near lagoons.

Nancy Becker, 88, was attacked and killed Aug. 15 in Sun City. Investigators said she slipped and fell while gardening, sliding down an embankment into the water.

The frequency of alligator attacks in the county has slowly increased over the last decade, but their population has stabilized alongside laws protecting the creatures and their habitats. While laws provide for the euthanization of alligators that attack humans, relocation and translocation of alligators are illegal in South Carolina.

Hilton Head Plantation General Manager Peter Kristian said the alligator that attacked Kyle was captured and killed the same day the attack occurred. While signage warning of alligators may not be posted at each individual lagoon in the area, Kristian said the community’s front gates have posted warnings and other awareness measures are taken.

Kristian added since wildlife in the area is often part of the reason people move to Hilton Head Plantation and the island at large, the community publishes information about alligators and other animals regularly.

“We do a very, very extensive education program which starts when the property owner moves in,” Kristian said. “Our monthly publications include at least three to four times a year (information) about alligators, every community meeting we have mentions alligators and other critters ... folks know they’re here.”