A Kentucky pastor who co-starred in the TV show Snake Salvation has died of a snakebite.
Emergency personnel received a call Saturday night that someone at a church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, had suffered a snakebite, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said in a statement. He said an ambulance crew went to the church, but the Rev. Jamie Coots had left. The crew went to Coots' home and found him suffering from a bite to the hand.
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"After a brief examination and discussion of the possible dangers if the wound was not treated, treatment — and transport to the hospital — was refused," Sharpe said.
An hour later, police, emergency officials and a deputy coroner returned to the home to find that Coots had died, Sharpe said.
Coots, who was profiled on The National Geographic show featuring pentecostal, serpent-handling preachers, pleaded guilty last year to violating Tennessee's exotic animals law and agreed to surrender his snakes.
Coots and the show's co-star, the Rev. Andrew Hamblin, believe in a passage from the Gospel of Mark that suggests a poisonous snakebite won't harm them if they are anointed by God's power:
"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."
Most churches view the passage as a metaphor, but for almost a century a small number of believers in Tennessee, Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia have followed the passage literally. Coots and Hamblin believed that, if they did not practice the snake-handling ritual, they would be condemned to hell.
Cody Winn, another preacher at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, said he was right next to Coots when he got bit during the Saturday evening service, according to WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tenn.
"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 before, within a second," said Winn.
He said Coots dropped the snakes, but then picked them back up and continued on. Within minutes, he said Coots headed to the bathroom with his son and Hamblin, who is on Snake Salvation.
"Andrew said he looked at him and said 'sweet Jesus' and it was over. He didn't die right then, but he just went out and never woke back up," Winn said.
Coots' son, Cody, said his dad had been bit eight times before, but never had such a severe reaction.
He said he thought the bite his dad received Saturday would be just like all the others.
"We're going to go home, he's going to lay on the couch, he's going to hurt, he's going to pray for a while and he's going to get better. That's what happened every other time, except this time was just so quick and it was crazy, it was really crazy," said Cody Coots.
Cody Coots said he and a group of people at the church helped carry his dad to the car and took him home, where he died later that night. He said his dad didn't believe in going to the doctor for a snakebite.
The Snake Salvation Facebook fan page featured a "Rest in Peace" cover photo on Sunday. A Day Of Support and Remembering of Pastor Coots was announced for Tuesday.
"I am so sorry for the family's loss," Janet Ellison posted. "He died doing what he felt led to do by God. Heaven gained a true warrior tonight!"
Not all the reaction was so sympathetic. Hemant Mehta, in the Friendly Atheist blog, wrote: "Alright, everyone just get it out of your system: 'I told you so.' There. Much better."
Contributing: Bob Smietna, The Tennessean; WBIR-TV