February 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Snake-handling pastor dies of bite

He took up serpents after reading Bible, declined treatment

Middlesboro, Ky.— Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Kentucky pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation,” died Saturday after being bitten by a snake.

Coots was handling a rattlesnake during a Saturday night service at his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro when he was bit, another preacher, Cody Winn, told WBIR-TV.

“Jamie went across the floor. He had one of the rattlers in his hand, he came over and he was standing beside me. It was plain view, it just turned its head and bit him in the back of the hand … within a second,” Winn said.

When an ambulance arrived at the church at 8:30 p.m., they were told Coots had gone home, the Middlesboro Police Department said in a news release. Contacted at his house, Coots refused medical treatment.

Emergency workers left about 9:10 p.m. When they returned about an hour later, Coots was dead from a venomous snake bite, police said.

In January 2013, Coots was caught transporting three rattlesnakes and two copperheads through Knoxville, Tenn. Wildlife officials confiscated the snakes, and Coots pleaded guilty to illegally wildlife possession. He was given one year of unsupervised probation.

Coots said then he needed the snakes for religious reasons, citing a Bible passage in the book of Mark that reads, in part: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Coots said he took the passage at face value.

“We literally believe they want us to take up snakes,” Coots told the Associated Press in February 2013. “We’ve been serpent handling for the past 20 or 21 years.”

After he was bitten Saturday night, Coots dropped the snakes, but then picked them back up and continued on. Within minutes, Winn said Coots headed to the bathroom.

His son, Cody, told the television station his dad had been bit eight times before, but never had such a severe reaction. Cody Coots said he thought the bite would be just like all the others.

National Geographic said in a statement it was struck by Coots’ “devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced.”