A quick snakebite took the life of snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots after a rattler sank its fangs into his right hand during a church service.
Coots refused medical treatment and was pronounced two hours after the bite which occurred during a church service in Kentucky, apparently the first from a snakebite since 2006.
Coots was a a third-generation snake handler, prominent among Pentecostal churches in Appalachia. He was part of a National Geographic Channel program called Snake Salvation which profiled him and other snake handlers.
Snake-handlers believed in the literal interpretation of the King James Bible passage which says in March 16: 17-18
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 was handling three rattlesnakes near the pulpit when a two-and-a-half-foot long timber rattlesnake bit him near the base of his right thumb.
He quickly became sick and went to the bathroom to throw up, his son Cody said in the Herald-Leader newspaper. His father took one final breath on the way home after it took five men to carry him to the car, Cody Coot said. His family knew he would refuse medical treatment.
He always said, Don’t take me to the doctor’…It was totally against his religion.”
People who handle snakes as part of their faith typically rely on prayer for healing after a bite.
It was not the first time Jamie Coots was bitten. His right arm swelled after a bite in 1998 and was puckered with blisters and eventually the end of his middle finger died and fell off.
Kentucky law has made handling poisonous snakes in religious service illegal since 1940. But authorities have been reluctant to prosecute people over the law because they believe they have the religious right to handle snakes.
Although snake-handling churches were once widespread across Kentucky, West Virginia, Virgina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, their numbers of dwindled over the last 50 years.
Coots son Cody said he plans to continue the practice.
Photo credit: Daily Mail