Reptile expert reacts to pastor's deadly snake bite

SLADE, Ky. (WKYT) - He was known around the country after appearing in a featured reality show. A Kentucky pastor died this weekend after a rattlesnake bit him during a church service.

Jamie Coots and his Bell County church were featured on a National Geographic channel show about snake-handling churches.

How rare are deaths caused by snake bites in Kentucky? WKYT talked to a reptile expert to find out.

"When I hear that there's a snake bite death, I can just about always guarantee it's gonna be a religious snake handler," explained Jim Harrison with the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, "a lot of people are extremely nice, sweet people. Most of them are uneducated, and they really don't understand what they're doing."

Harrison doesn't believe Coots knew how to handle the snakes properly, or how to keep them healthy, despite working with them multiple times at services inside his Bell County church.

"I've been in their church, I've been in their house. I've been around," noted Harrison, "most of those snakes that are handled in the church are in such bad shape. That if you watch them they're very limp. That's because they're lethargic because they've been dehydrated and they're also unhealthy."

Of all snake bite deaths in our state in the last 25 years, Harrison says every one of the victims refused or delayed medical treatment.

"Normally most snake bites are not going to be fatal. In fact 50% of the bites that we see are dry, which means the snake injects no venom," said Harrison, "I don't recommend even educators pick up venomous snakes to just handle them. Whether they're church or otherwise. People who get bit are almost always intentionally interacting with the snake."

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