Kentucky snake handling pastor Jamie Coots died Saturday after he was bitten by one of his rattlesnakes he was handling while he was preaching in the middle of one of his Pentecostal services. Coots had been a star of the National Geographic Channel’s series about snake handlers, Snake Salvation.
According to the local police, Jamie Coots was found dead in his home around 10:00 p.m. Saturday. He’d been bitten earlier in the day in his church during a service held there. Coots left the church before emergency personnel arrived, and he refused medical attention for his bite. Admitting that he might die would have been, for Coots, basically denying that God would protect him from succumbing to the snake’s venom.
Though Jamie Coots, 42, had a run-in with the law before almost a year ago and he had pled guilty to violating laws about owning exotic animals like snakes, and he had been ordered to give up his rattlesnakes, he apparently ignored the order.
According to a National Geographic Channel spokesman, there had been no plans to film another season of the reality show, but the network does plan to air a special episode featuring Jamie Coots.
The spokesman said that they were “constantly struck by his devout religious convictions” despite the risks he often faced, both legal ones and ones to his health. He thought that the risks were worth it, and the network said in a statement that they “were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show.”
Death came just two hours after one of the pastor’s rattlesnakes bit into his right hand. Jamie Coots’ son Cody said that, within just minutes of getting bitten, his father was overwhelmed by the snake’s poison.”
The last person to have died from being bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service was in November 2006, when a female member of the Laurel County church became a victim of a rattlesnake bite.
Coots was the pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church located in Middlesboro, Kentucky. He was third-generation snake holder.
There were about 35-40 members of his congregation in attendance on Saturday when a two-and-a-half foot long rattlesnake sank its fangs into Coots’ right hand.
At the time he got bitten, Cody Coots said that his father was near the pulpit and was handling three snakes at the same time.
After throwing up in the bathroom and telling his son that his face felt “like it’s on fire,” Jamie Coots lost consciousness. A snake-handling preacher from Tennessee who was there, Andrew Hamblin, shouted out for help.
Five men were needed to carry the unconscious Jamie Coots to the car which Cody used to drive his father to their home close to downtown Middlesboro. The pastor never regained consciousness.
Emergency personnel tried to convince the family of Jamie Coots to allow them to take him to a hospital, but they refused. They said that Jamie Coots would have strongly opposed it, Cody saying because “It was totally against his religion.”
Linda Coots, Jamie’s wife, had to sign a form in which she decline treatment for Jamie. Cody and a police officer were witnesses to it, according to Cody Coots.
A deputy coroner, Jason Steele, was notified to go to the house that night. At 1016 p.m., he pronounced Coots dead.
Cody related that his father had been bitten at least a half dozen times since he began snake handling when he was 23. Though he came close to dying twice from past bites, once in 1993 and again in December 1998, Jamie Coots had refused medical treatment both times and had somehow managed to live.
About six years ago, Jamie Coots had been fined over $6,000 for illegally buying and selling snakes. Then, in Tennessee just last year in 2013, he was charged with transporting poisonous snakes he’d purchased in Alabama.
In 1995, a woman in attendance at Coots’ church, Melinda Brown, 28, of Parrotsville, Tennessee, was killed by a large rattlesnake which had bitten her on her arm. She died at Coots’ home, having refused her husband, who begged her to be taken to a hospital.
In October 1998, just three years later, Brown’s husband, John Wayne Brown, 34, was bitten by a rattlesnake in an Alabama church and died.
Though it’s been illegal in Kentucky since 1940 for poisonous snakes to be handled during religious services, the law hasn’t been enforced for decades. The police and judges have been reluctant to arrest and place on trial people for their religious beliefs.
Snake handlers believe they are obeying a biblical command in picking up snakes. Pastor Jamie Coots and Hamblin believed that if they disobeyed the command, they would be condemning their souls to hell.
By taking up and handling snakes, the pastors who do so believe that they are obeying a biblical command. In Mark 16: 17-18, there’s a statement about people who believe in Jesus Christ that “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.”
The vast majority of mainstream Protestant churches do not believe that this Bible verse is a command to prove one’s faith by handling poisonous snakes.
Cody Coots has already taken up where his father left off, and has also been handling snakes and preaching. He has stated that he wants to continue his father’s legacy.
Let us hope that Cody Coots does not meet the same fate that befell his father, Jamie, when he got bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service on Saturday and died as a result. Was the death of Jamie Coots because of a sudden loss in faith; or, was it because his luck had finally ran out?
Written by: Douglas Cobb