While celebrating his 57th birthday with his wife on an outdoors adventure, Barry Lester did what he often warned others never to do but frequently did himself—he picked up a snake.
Sadly, this time it was a fatal mistake for Lester as a timber rattlesnake, one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes in the eastern U.S., bit him twice, and he died before he could be treated, as reported by the Tulsa World.
Lester stopped to pick up snakes many times over the years and Sunday wasn’t any different as the couple traveled the back roads of Osage County, Okla., on the way to Walnut Creek and Keystone Lake.
“We were just going to walk and have a day outside enjoying the lake,” Roberta Lester told the Tulsa World.
They stopped when Barry Lester spotted a 42-inch timber rattlesnake crossing the road.
Roberta Lester said her husband would often catch snakes and release them at home to control the mouse population, but they were usually nonvenomous snakes. She didn’t know what Barry intended to do with this timber rattlesnake.
As he had often done, Barry pinned the snake’s head to the ground with a stick and grabbed it behind the head.
“It bit his left hand, and then he put it in his right and it bit that hand, too,” Roberta Lester told the Tulsa World.
He put the snake in an empty toolbox in the truck bed and informed Roberta he needed to get to a hospital. An ambulance was called and they sped home to meet it for the remaining trip to St. John Medical Center, but he didn’t make it.
“He was talking and his head dropped, and I think that was it,” Roberta told the Tulsa World through tears.
Emergency medical personnel in the ambulance and at the hospital attempted to revive him without success. [Roberta Lester] said the doctors told her his death was due to the combination of the rattlesnake bite and an existing heart condition.
“My message is you don’t mess with snakes,” she said. “If you hear it rattling, you leave it alone.”
Tim Fitzer, an expert snake hunter with 40 years experience, was called in by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to remove the snake and return it to the wild.
“The timber rattler is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes in our territory because of the long fangs and the amount of venom that they unload in one dose,” Fitzer told the Tulsa World. “There’s enough in there to kill 20 grown men over 200 pounds.
“The snake didn’t do anything wrong. The snake was just defending himself in his natural way. These snakes strike at over 100 mph, quicker than a blink of a man’s eye. The fastest man on earth couldn’t move out of the way in time. Usain Bolt couldn’t move fast enough.”
An Oklahoma game warden told NewsOn6.com that up to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year but only a few die. Fitzer said deaths solely from bites are rare, saying, “Usually it’s something else along with it, like a heart attack or something.”