(Photo: Shelley Mays, Gannett)
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.
"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, 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.
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