Jamie Coots, a Pentecostal church pastor and star of National Geographic’s reality show “Snake Salvation,” died Saturday night in his Kentucky home after being bitten on his right hand by one of his snakes.
The Middlesboro Police Department told WBIR that Coots was found dead in his home around 10 p.m. Saturday night after leaving his Middlesboro, K.Y., church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus' Name, where he suffered a bite from a venomous snake during an evening church service.
Multiple sources report that when an ambulance crew and firefighters showed up at the pastor’s residence, Coots refused to be taken to the hospital for treatment of the snake bite. Coots was a member of a Pentecostal church whose followers practice snake handling and believe in faith healing.
During an episode of “Snake Salvation,” Coots, who comes from a long line of snake handlers, said that he believed a passage in the Bible suggests that church members cannot be harmed by venomous snakebites as long as they were anointed by God, according to CNN. The passage comes from the book of Mark, chapter 16.
“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,” the passage reads.
In 2013, National Geographic approached Coots and another Pentecostal pastor, Andrew Hamblin of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., to start filming a reality series featuring modern snake handlers. Producers wrapped up filming last year, and didn’t intend to film a second season, according to TMZ.
“In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church,” a description of the show states. “Jamie and Andrew believe in a Bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell.”
Coots and Hamblin spent time searching the mountains for deadly snakes to add to their churches’ snake collections. But the practice has, on several occasions, landed the pastors in hot water with the law.
In 2008 Coots was arrested for keeping 74 snakes in his home. Nine other people were arrested as part of an undercover sting operation to seize venomous snakes in Kentucky. Last year, the pastor was given one year of probation for crossing into Tennessee with venomous snakes. Snake handling is illegal in most states, including Kentucky.
Saturday’s incident wasn’t the first time Coots has been bitten by one of the snakes he has handled. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Coots nearly died in the early 1990s after suffering a bite from a large rattlesnake on his left arm. Then, in 1998, another rattlesnake bit Coots on his middle finger.
“I lost this finger to a serpent bite,” Coots would later say during filming of “Snake Salvation.” “The finger rotted, there was a quarter inch of bone exposed. The finger broke off.”
As was the case in Saturday’s snake-bite incident, Coots refused to be treated for previous bites as well.
“I never sought medical attention, because when I first started in church I said if I ever went to a hospital or a doctor for a snake bite I would quit church,” he told National Geographic during filming in 2013.
''We're just normal people living day to day like everybody else, most of us living hand to mouth, but what we believe, we believe, and we practice it,” Coots said in 1998, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.