Lifestyle & Belief

Snake-handling preacher Mack Wolford dies from rattlesnake bite (VIDEO)


Pentecostal preacher Mack Wolford handles a snake in the trailer for the documentary "With Signs Following." Wolford died after being bit by a rattlesnake during an outdoor service on May 27, 2012.

A serpent-handling Pentecostal preacher died late Sunday after being bit by a rattlesnake during an outdoor service in West Virginia. The preacher had watched his father die of a snakebite as a teenager.

Mack Wolford, 44, was bitten on the thigh about 2 p.m. Sunday during a service at Panther State Forest in southern West Virginia, but didn't come to the hospital until 10:30 p.m., a nursing supervisor at Bluefield Regional Medical Center told the Charleston Daily Mail.

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Snake-handling is legal in West Virginia, and Wolford was trying to keep it alive there and in neighboring states where it is not, The Washington Post Magazine reported in a profile on Wolford last fall.

His sister, Robin Vanover, told The Washington Post in an interview Monday night that Wolford passed a yellow timber rattler to a church member and his mother about 30 minutes into the Sunday service.

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"He laid it on the ground," she told the newspaper, "and he sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh."

Wolford, who had often handled that particular snake, was taken to a relative's house in Bluefield to recover. He had been bitten before, but this time his condition worsened, according to the Post.

Documentary filmmaker Kate Fowler, who is working on a film about Wolford, told the Daily Mail she was surprised by his death despite his frequent handling of dangerous reptiles.

"Honestly, him being bitten is shocking," she said.