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Snake handler: Jamie Coots, reality show snake preacher, dies from snakebite

Snake handler Jamie Coots, a Kentucky pastor who starred on National Geographic Channel's Snake Salvation, died Saturday after being bitten by one of his venomous snakes. According to NBC affiliate WBIR.com out of Kentucky, Coots refused medical attention, in line with his beliefs, and ultimately died from the poisonous bite.

The Tennessean
Pastor Jamie Coots stands on a bench before the church singing and holding a rattlesnake during service at Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn. on May 6, 2012.

Coots was a Pentecostal preacher and snake handler in the Middlesboro church, named the "Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name." The reality star would regularly handle snakes as part of his services.

Coots was found dead in his home around 10 p.m. Saturday after being bitten in his church earlier that day by a rattlesnake. Emergency responders were called to the church, but Coots had gone home. Officials say when the EMTs arrived at his home, Coots would not consent to be treated or taken to the hospital; he later died.

Fellow preacher Cody Winn witnessed the bite occur.

"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 before, within a second," Winn said.

Winn said Coots continued with his service, then went into the bathroom with his son Andrew, an East Tennessee preacher who also handles snakes.

"Andrew said he looked at him and said 'sweet Jesus' and it was over. He didn't die right then, but he just went out and never woke back up," Winn said.

Coots other son, Cody, said his dad had been bitten at least eight other times.

"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.

According to WBIR, nearly one year ago Coots plead guilty to transporting poisonous snakes and violating Tennessee's exotic animal laws. As part of a plea deal, Coots was ordered to give up his vipers.

A spokesman for National Geographic said they were not planning on filming a second season of Snake Salvation, but were happy to shed light on this little known backroots faith.

"In following Pastor Coots ... 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," the network said in a statement. "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."

Snake healers take their faith from spurious texts at Mark Chapter 16. These unauthentic texts, often called the “long conclusion,” are not found in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible. The verses speak of the Apostles of Christ speaking in tongues, healing the sick, taking up serpents, and drinking poison.