Nat Geo's 'Snake Salvation' Pastor Dies After Snake Bite
Pastor Jamie Coots, who starred in a National Geographic reality TV series that followed his exploits at a snake-handling church in Kentucky, has died of a fatal snake bite.
He died at his home on Saturday night, a dispatcher at the Middlesboro Police Department confirmed to THR. The incident was reported to authorities at 8:30 p.m. that evening.
Coots was bitten on his hand during a church service earlier that day, and the pastor refused emergency medical service attention at home, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The local newspaper notes that Coots had previously been bitten several times before the Feb. 16 incident.
Snake Salvation, the National Geographic show that featured Coots, had premiered in Sept. 2013, promising an inside look at the workings of the church and others like it.
"They firmly believe they are commanded by the Bible to take up serpents as a sign to non-believers, and they feel strongly they are exercising their religious freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution," said series executive producer Matthew Testa in a Nat Geo TV post promoting the premiere. "They often say, 'God’s law trumps the law of man.'"
The episode titles for the series -- "Bitten in Church," "Lethal Poison," "Deadly Legacy" and "Venom in the Veins," among others -- regularly noted the dangerous nature of the religious practice.
On Sunday, the National Geographic Channel released a statement offering condolences for the loss of the pastor.
"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."