Snake-handling Kentucky preacher dies after rattler bite

Feb. 16, 2014 at 10:31 PM
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MIDDLESBORO, Ky., Feb. 16 (UPI) -- A snake-handling preacher died in Kentucky this weekend after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service and refusing medical care, his family said.

Jamie Coots died Saturday night, no more than 2 hours after the 2 1/2-foot-long viper sank its fangs into his right hand during a service at his Middlesboro church attended by 35-40 people, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Cody Coots said Sunday his father quickly became sick and threw up in a bathroom.

"He said, 'My face feels like it's on fire," the younger Coots said.

Members of the church took the preacher to his home, and he never regained consciousness. While an ambulance was summoned, the family wouldn't allow emergency workers to take him to a hospital.

"He always said, Don't take me to the doctor'" if he was bitten," the younger Coots said. "It was totally against his religion.

"It was the quickest snakebite [death] I ever seen in my life."

Jamie Coots was a third-generation snake handler and the pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus name, a small congregation in Middlesboro.

Just last fall, he was profiled on a National Geographic Channel program called "Snake Salvation," the Herald-Leader said.

The newspaper said the last known snakebite death during a church service in Kentucky was November 2006.

The Los Angeles Times noted the 42-year-old Coots had taken a strong public position against a Kentucky law forbidding the handling of snakes for religious ceremonies, noting he was arrested in 2008 for breaking the law.

The Times said Coots had been bitten several before, noting that in 1998 a snake bite made his arm swell and caused a finger to fall off. His family kept the digit in a jar in their home, the newspaper said.

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