Snake bite blamed for death

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2000

MONTICELLO — This year’s increase in snake attacks resulted inthe death of a Lawrence County man Wednesday, the first snake bitedeath in this state in experts’ memory.

Tommy Tanksley, 80, was working on his farm when he was bitten,said Coroner Dr. Joe Ward. Ward said Tanksley was bitten on theleft arm, and it was possible he was bitten several times.

Ward said he did not know which species of snake attackedTanksley. The victim told witnesses before his death that he wasbitten by a rattlesnake, Ward said.

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Ward said Tanksley apparently tried to drive his vehicle to thehospital and veered into a fence on his property.

“It was an insignificant accident,” Ward said.

The coroner said the accident probably played no role inTanksley’s death. Tanksley was treated at the scene by Topeka FirstResponders and rushed to Lawrence County Hospital, where he laterdied.

Dr. Bob Galli, department chairman of emergency medicine atUniversity Medical Center and consulting medical toxicologist forthe Mississippi Regional Poison Control Center, said he consultedwith the physician treating Tanksley.

“They tried to call us quickly yesterday, but I’m afraid it wastoo late,” Galli said. “This is a very, very unusual event. Thereare literally hundreds of snake bites each year, and this is thefirst death we know of in countless years.”

The victim’s body has been sent to Mississippi Mortuary inJackson for an autopsy.

It is possible the venom did not kill Tanksley directly, butserved as the catalyst of a preexisting medical condition.

“It is possible the venom didn’t kill him, but that he succumbedto some complications from it,” Ward said.

Galli said it is rare for people to die from snake bites.

“Most victims don’t even require anti-venom,” he said. “It isextremely unusual for this to happen this quickly. We do have somedrastic cases” where venom acts especially fast.

These cases usually result from the bite injecting the poisondirectly into the bloodstream, Galli said, or because it aggravatesan existing medical problem, such as a heart condition.

Dr. Michael Hume, toxicologist and managing director of thePoison Control Center, said more people die each year from ant orbee stings than snake bites. Hume said the center typicallyreceives between 150 and 175 calls from February to October orNovember each year with the peak period being the summer months.Nationally, he said, about 8,000 venomous bites are reported eachyear resulting in 12-15 fatalities.

Hume said he has worked at the Poison Control Center since 1978and he does not know of any fatal cases here in that time.