Snake-handling Ky. pastor dies from snake bite

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MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (WKYT) - The snake-handling pastor starring on the reality show "Snake Salvation," died from a snake bite Saturday, according to Middlesboro police.

Police believe Jamie Coots died after a rattlesnake bit his right hand during a church service.

Coots was found dead in his home about 10 p.m. after refusing medical treatment, according to police.

Cody Coots says he remembers every detail leading up to the moment when his father was bitten.

“Everybody was getting in, shouting, taking up serpents, speaking in tongues, handling fire. I mean, you could just feel the power of God,” Cody Coots said.

Coots says that his father knew snake-handling could kill him, but he believed that if he was bitten either God would save him or he would die.

“If he had lived and woke up in a hospital bed, he would’ve blamed every one of us. He was a firm believer, he would not go to a hospital. He always told us, you get bit, you either die at home or God brings you through,” he said.

He says his father survived eight other snake bites. He also says they handled the snake that bit his father hundreds of times in the past four months.

Coots was well-known for his starring role on National Geographic's show "Snake Salvation." The reality show highlighted the snake-handling practice at his church in Bell County.

WKYT spoke to Coots about a year ago, after he was stopped in Tennessee where police found several rattlesnakes and copperheads in his car.

Coots said he believed the venomous snakes couldn't hurt him as long as he had the power of God.

"We use them in religious ceremonies and I believe as for me, if I don't have them there to use I'm not obeying the word of God," Jamie Coots said.

In an interview in 2012, Coots said he knew snake-handling might eventually kill him but he said it was how he preferred to go.

“I don’t actually want to die of a serpent bite, but I’d rather die and leave these walks of life with a serpent bite knowing there are people standing around me praying than to be in a car wreck and people standing around me cussing,” he said.

His son says he knows their churches’ controversial snake-handling practice may be hard for people to understand.

“It’s kind of like a family tradition. If you’ve not been raised up in this, you’re not going to understand it,” Cody Coots said.

Jamie Coots said he was a third-generation snake handler and hoped to pass the church on to his son.

Pastor Coots’ funeral will be at Creech Funeral Home on Tuesday.

Visitation is at 5 p.m. and the funeral is at 8 p.m. The interment will be private.


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