Snake-handling preacher dies from bite after refusing anti-venom
Pastor Jamie Coots was found dead at about 10pm EST on Saturday at his house in Middlesboro, Kentucky, local police reported Sunday.
Coots was reportedly bitten on his right hand by a rattlesnake at his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, Middlesboro Chief of Police Jeffrey Sharpe reported. Emergency workers were called, but the preacher went home before they reached the church.
The medics went to Coots’ house and spent some 30 minutes attempting to persuade him to accept treatment. However his faith included the conviction that God would protect any true believer from snake venom, so he refused medical aid.
"Everybody that knows Mr. Coots knows what his belief is, and he had no intention of going to the hospital," Sharpe said.
The 42-year-old was found dead by emergency workers, who returned some 60 minutes after departure, police said.
"I liked him a lot. I don't agree with his interpretation, but you just have to have a tremendous amount of respect for his determination to follow his beliefs. I mean that's what he believed and he would not step away from it," Sharpe said.
The pastor's son Cody Coots said while the family is in shock, they remain strong in their faith.
"I don't think it's dangerous. It's the word of God. We've always said it's a good way to live by and it's a good way to die by," he said.
Jamie Coots appeared in a National Geographic television show titled ‘Snake Salvation’ about preachers, who defy the law and perform snake handling sermons. The dangerous practice, which is based on Bible passages referring to apostles’ immunity to snake bites, is illegal in most places.
During the two decades of religious snake handling, Coots sustained nine snakebites, one of which cost him his finger.
"We use [the snakes] in our 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," the pastor said in an earlier 6 News interview.
The preacher pledged that he would quit his church if he ever chose to be treated for venom.
His devotion sometimes put Coots at odds with the law. A year ago he pleaded guilty to violating Tennessee's exotic animal regulations and surrendered his vipers as part of a plea deal.
In 1995, a 28-year-parishioner died two days after being bitten at Coots’ church by a timber rattlesnake. An attorney wanted to prosecute him under a 1942 law forbidding the display of snakes in religious services, but the judged refused to sign the criminal complaint, saying that a trial would not stop snake handling.
The church where Coots preached was founded around 100 years ago by his grandfather. He had been a pastor th