Crime & Public Safety

Husband of 45-year-old Hilton Head woman killed by alligator sues Sea Pines Resort

A woman was killed during alligator attack on Hilton Head. Here’s what we know

A woman was killed in August 2018 during an alligator attack on Hilton Head. The woman was walking her dog near a lagoon in Sea Pines when the attack occurred, police say.
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A woman was killed in August 2018 during an alligator attack on Hilton Head. The woman was walking her dog near a lagoon in Sea Pines when the attack occurred, police say.

The husband of the woman who was dragged into a lagoon and killed by a nine-foot alligator in August is suing the private Hilton Head Island community where she was attacked for wrongful death.

James Cline’s suit, filed April 9, said both the Sea Pines Resort and Sea Pines Community Services Associates (CSA) were “grossly negligent” and “aware” of the aggressive nature of the alligator that attacked Cassandra “Casi” Cline as she walked her dog near a lagoon on Governors Lane on Aug. 20.

The lawsuit said the Sea Pines Resort and CSA violated “its own rules” for the maintenance and safety of public areas by “failing to take the steps to warn the public of an unsafe condition” and failing to take “appropriate measures to prevent alligators from attacking.”

Sea Pines CSA president Bret Martin responded to the suit Wednesday.

“The entire Sea Pines community continues to mourn the tragic loss of Cassandra Cline,” according to a written statement from Martin. “The safety and security of Sea Pines property owners, guests, visitors and staff are of paramount importance to Sea Pines CSA. Our (counsel) will provide any and all appropriate responses to the court regarding any filings.”

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A photo of Cassandra Cline is posted as a memorial on a relative’s Facebook page after her death on Hilton Head Island Monday morning when an alligator pulled her into a lagoon as she walked her dog. Facebook

The suit said the Sea Pines Resort “sought and received tags from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to remove alligators.”

In August, S.C. Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Regional Coordinator Sam Chappelear confirmed that the community is permitted to “remove alligators at their own discretion,” according to previous Island Packet reporting.

The alligator believed to be responsible for the attack was caught and euthanized, Chappelear said.

The suit and is not seeking pre-determined damages — leaving that amount for the court to decide.

James Cline is being represented by Lee Cope of Hampton-based Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, P.A. law firm.

Cassandra Cline, who was 45 years old, had recently moved to Sea Pines is remembered by her friends and colleagues as the “Mary Poppins” of kindergarten teachers.

“She made her classroom a home for everyone,” said Dr. Suzanne McLeod, superintendent of New York state’s Union-Endicott Central School District, where Cline taught kindergarten for 16 years.

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A memorial to Cassandra “Sassie” Cline is marked by a plaque, flowers and newly planted tree, and rests off Governors Lane in Sea Pines on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2018, on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Mandy Matney mmatney@islandpacket.com

Marci Tressel, who lived nearby in Sea Pines, said she met Cline just days before she died.

“She just seemed like a young gal who loved life,” Tressel said in August. “She loved living on Hilton Head.”

Tressel remembered Cline as “very active,” and, like a lot of people in that part of Sea Pines, a dog lover.

“All of us are dog people,” Tressel said. “We’d all be inclined to save our best friends.”

Alligator attacks in Beaufort County

Cline’s death was only the second alligator-related death in South Carolina since the state began keeping records in 1976, according to SCDNR spokesperson David Lucas. Though alligator attacks are exceedingly rare, the Lowcountry has seen a few attacks in recent years.

In 2009, an Ohio man was playing golf on a Fripp Island course when he leaned down at the edge of a lagoon to pick up his ball and a 400-pound alligator grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into the pond. The man survived, but lost his arm.

In 2013, a woman walking two dogs near a lagoon in Hilton Head Plantation was attacked by an 8-foot alligator that charged out of the water at her. She slipped and fell when she tried to run away, and the alligator bit her ankle. She kicked it, and it ran away.

In July 2018, an 8-foot alligator attacked a dog in Long Cove Club. The dog was running out of the pond in a backyard when it was bit on both of its back legs. The dog survived the attack and was treated with stitches.

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Beaufort County coroner Ed Allen, back left, talks with law enforcement with S.C. Department of Natural Resources as other officers stand along Governors Lane on Monday where Cassandra Cline, 45, was drug into a lagoon by an alligator and killed while trying to save her dog. The alligator believed responsible for the attack was captured near the 13th green of the Sea Pines Country Club course on Hilton Head Island and euthanized. Allen said the deceased would be examined at the Medical University of South Carolina to determine a cause of death. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

Never feed or go near an alligator

In the days following the attack on Cline, many gated communities on Hilton Head sent special information bulletins to residents regarding alligator safety.

In Sea Pines, the CSA sent out a bulletin that warned residents, “do not approach alligators, no matter how big or small.”

Martin said in August he thinks that education of property owners and renters is important for preventing any future incidents.

Sea Pines CSA told residents in an email that “alligators inhabit our area and they do live in Sea Pines, assume every body of water could contain an alligator” and South Carolina law prohibits feeding or enticing alligators.

Lucas said SCDNR’s major piece of advice to everyone is to not feed the alligators.

“Feeding alligators can quickly make them dangerous to people,” Lucas said in August. He said once people do this, the alligators will start associating people with food and be more likely to approach them.

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