“Snake Salvation” star and preacher Jamie Coots has died of a snakebite after refusing medical attention, CNN confirmed.
The Pentecostal preacher was allegedly attacked during a Feb. 15 service with his congregation in Middlesboro, Ky. He was bitten on the right hand, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Emergency personnel were called to the church around 8:30 p.m., but Coots had already gone home by the time they arrived.
They attempted to treat him at his house and warned him of the dangers, but he refused to go to the hospital. Authorities later received a call indicating he had died.
Coots was the pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, according to ABC affiliate WATE. He and his family were featured on the National Geographic reality show, “Snake Salvation.”
The reality series focused on believers in a particular Bible passage that suggests poisonous snakebites won’t harm those anointed by God. Coots previously lost half a finger to a bite and was arrested for keeping 74 snakes in his home. Although the snake-handling practice is illegal in most states, it is still goes on in areas like the rural South, CNN noted.
“When you feel the anointing and God moves on you to take up serpents, even if one of ‘em lays fangs into you, you shall not be harmed,” one of the show’s co-stars, Andrew Hamblin, told Buzzfeed in a recent interview.
National Geographic released a statement on Coots’ death to Deadline.com, saying:
National Geographic joins his family, friends and community in mourning the loss of Pastor Jamie Coots. In following Pastor Coots for our series Snake Salvation, we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced. Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.
More from AP:
MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — 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 (http://on.wbir.com/1cLrs8A).
“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.
“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,” Cody Coots said.
National Geographic said in a statement it was struck by Coots’ “devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced.”
“Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith,” the statement said. “We were honored to be allowed such unique access to pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship.”
In 1995, 28-year-old Melinda Brown, of Parrottsville, Tenn., died after being bitten at Coot’s church by a 4-foot-long timber rattlesnake. Her relatives disputed accounts that the mother of five had been holding the snake that bit her and disagreed with witnesses who said she refused medical treatment as she suffered the effects of the venom for two days at Coots’ home.
The Bell County attorney at the time wanted to prosecute under a 1942 state law that made it illegal to handle or display snakes during religious services. But the judge refused to sign the criminal complaint.
“If the court thought that a trial would act to deter future snake handling in church, my decision would be different,” Bell District Judge James Bowling Jr. wrote to the county attorney. “But you and I both know that this practice is not going to stop until either rattlesnakes or snake handlers become extinct.”