Pastor Jamie Coots died on Saturday after being bitten by a rattler during one of his church services at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
Coots, a former bus driver, was the star of Snake Salvation, a National Geographic reality television show. He believed he was commanded to handle snakes, and if in danger or bitten he was forbidden to seek medical attention. Instead, it was required that he pray for healing. The family’s strong belief in Pentecostalism, arguably the most important mass religious movement of the twentieth century, is thought to protect them from venomous snakes.
During the night service, Coots was handling a rattlesnake, as a means to demonstrate his unwavering faith, and was bitten.
“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,” Cody Winn, another preacher for the church, explained to WBIR-TV.
According to the Middlesboro Police Department, by the time an ambulance arrived at the church, Coots had already gone home. When emergency workers got in contact with Coots, he refused any medical treatment, and an hour later he was pronounced dead.
“The snake that bit him, we’ve been carrying it for four months. It’s been carried hundreds of times and handled all kinds of times. But when it’s your time to go, it’s just your time to go,” Coots’ son Cody said.
Generally, rattlesnake bites are not fatal, as there is reliable anti-venom at virtually all medical facilities, and proper care can lessen the resulting tissue damage and pain. While carrying on his family’s 100-year-old tradition in the name of God, Coots had allegedly been bit eight times before and was expecting another full recovery. In the past, he even lost a finger to a serpent bite after it rotted and broke off.
Despite being in shock, his family says they will stand by their faith and snake handling practices.
“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.
While the third generation handlers may think it safe to practice such performances, back in 1995, a 25-year-old woman, and mother of five, was also bitten by a timber rattlesnake at Coots’ church. She later later died at his home.
The family announced Coots didn’t have insurance coverage for his perilous lifestyle and they are now accepting donations.