Snake Dealer With Dozen Venomous Snakes Faces Charges

Friday, February 4, 2011
Chuck Hurd
Chuck Hurd

A dealer in poisonous snakes has been arrested in Hamilton County, though he says he was not involved in the death of a 26-year-old East Ridge man who was bitten by a copperhead.

Samuel "Chuck" Hurd, 38, was brought to the Hamilton County Jail Thursday on a variety of charges brought by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

The affidavit of complaint says he transported a large black plastic box containing 12 highly venomous snakes to East Ridge. The box was stored at 4152 East Ridge Dr., it was stated.

Hurd said he knew the recent snakebite victim, but had not seen him in over a year.

Hurd said in an Internet posting that he was remorseful about the man's death.

Hurd was released on an OR bond. He is due to appear in General Sessions Court on Monday.

Hurd gave his address at the jail as Gate City, Va.

He is a graduate of UTC who lived in Chattanooga for 16 years prior to moving away. He is originally from Lebanon, Va.

Wade Westbrook, 26, died after being bitten by the snake at his home last Saturday night.

A man who said he brought the poisonous snake to the Westbrook home said he and the man's wife did not immediately call for help after the snake bit him because he had been bitten by a copperhead before.

East Ridge Police said "Chris" told them that he and the victim's wife, Stephanie Westbrook, did not call 911 for 10 minutes even though Mr. Westbrook had begun to cough and vomit and then collapsed on the living room floor.

Mr. Westbrook was pronounced dead after being taken to Erlanger Hospital.

The incident happened at the Westbrook home at 1058 Blanton Dr.

Mr. Westbrook was transported by Lifeguard EMS to Erlanger Trauma Center. which stores anti-venom for the region.

Mr. Westbrook�s death certificate lists the cause of death to be anaphylactic shock due to a snake bite.

Police said an autopsy will not be performed "because the snake bite was a witnessed event and the cause of death is not in question."

Investigators are still working to find the exact chain of events which led up to Mr. Westbrook�s death.

"Chris" said he had brought the snake over to have Mr. Westbrook determine the sex of the snake.

He said Mr. Westbrook was bitten on the left forearm as he was handling the snake.

"Chris" said Mr. Westbrook tried to extract the venom with a devenomization tool. He said it was then that he began to cough and vomit and he collapsed.

But he said neither he nor Mr. Westbrook's wife "thought anything about it" because of his prior snake bites.

When police arrived, Mr. Westbrook was unconscious and unresponsive. He had "a blue color to his body that was extensive, and he was foaming at the mouth," the police report says.

Efforts were made unsuccessfully by emergency personnel to revive him.

Mr. Westbrook's wife called his parents when he became unresponsive. Mr. Westbrook's father immediately called 911 when he saw Wade and learned what had happened. Mr. Westbrook's aunt arrived after the EMTs had already began to work with Mr. Westbrook.

The report says "Chris" is a friend from Georgia.

Chuck Hurd bio:

I have been a life long snake enthusiast. I currently live in GA, between Chattanooga, TN and Ringgold, GA, but I am from Southwest VA. My family tells me that I was capturing snakes from the time I could walk, well before my earliest memories. Like most children, I was not permitted by my family to keep snakes, so my early career was mostly capture and release. When I was 6 years old, my parents divorced. My mother moved Dickinson County, VA. My father was living on the family farm in Russell County, VA. My life was divided among these two locations until my teenage years. Both locations had a healthy snake population. During the summers, when school was out, I spent more time on the farm with my father�s side of the family. I learned that I could house some of my captured snakes in the barn without any of the family knowing. I also learned how to use corn to lure mice and rats to jump into a barrel they could not jump out of. Now I could keep the snakes I captured and even maintain a steady food source for them. I think I was about 7 years old when I captured and housed my first venomous snake. It was a dark phase timber rattlesnake. It was about 30" long. I used a homemade snake noose I had constructed with a tobacco stick and twine used by my grand father to bail hay. I carried it home in a bucket and kept him in a cage that had been originally designed for baby chickens. After a couple weeks, he started to feed well on the mice I was capturing in the barn. From that point I was hooked on venom, it was in my blood, figuratively speaking. Luckily, it didn't physically make it into my blood till much later in life. I still enjoyed the rat, corn, and garter snakes that I came across, but I was always focused on timbers and copperheads from that point on. When I was about 12, I had an uncle pass away and leave my mother with some money. Her and my father had decided to get back together and we were all moving to Scott County, VA, which bordered TN and the much larger city of Kingsport, TN. At my mother's house, I had captured my first cottonmouth. (She lived near a body of water.) I had been secretively keeping my cotton in my bed room, housed in a Christmas cookie tin. I had some water and rocks in the tin and he was feeding on small fish I was capturing from a nearby creek. He had lived happily in his tin for about 6 months, but he was discovered by my mother and grandmother as they packed up my room for the move. He was found while I was at school. I came home from my last day of the 6th grade with both of them waiting on me at the door. I then took one of the worst beatings of my childhood. Then I took my prized cotton back the creek and released him. On a side note, later in life I think my prized cottonmouth was really a harmless water snake, but there is no way I will ever really know. During this time in the mid 80's there was no Internet or Reptiles Magazine and no one else I knew was keeping snakes. Well, unless they had a snake I had captured and sold to them. It was difficult to learn from outside sources, so I learned myself through trail and error. Shamefully, I sacrificed several snakes through the years as I learned. Rest assured, you need to slaughter a large wild rat before you toss it in with your corn snake. That and many other things I learned as I went. Once in Scott County , I went to a much bigger school, which had a more stocked library. I found a copy of "Venomous Reptiles" By Sherman Minton, and realized for the first time that I wasn't the only person in the world that kept venomous snakes. Our new home was by a large creek, much like my mother's home had been before. It was called "Big Moccasin" Creek and the old timers told me it got the name from all the water moccasins there. However, this proved to be urban legend. By this time, with the help of the books I now was privileged too, I could distinguish between a water snake and a cottonmouth. I hunted those lands from the time I was 12 years old till now, and I have yet to find a true cottonmouth. By the time I was a late teenager, the reptile craze had hit. Most pet stores often kept 1 boa or 1 ball in house, but nothing more. A tropical fish store in Kingsport , TN had noticed they couldn't keep there 1 boa and 1 ball in stock, so they began to order more. Again, they flew out as soon as they were brought in. The owner began to focus more on the reptiles and I began working there. We sold balls, burms, and boas by the 100's. We got to the point that we cut the middle man and was importing our own. I would bust open creates from Africa with over 500 balls in them. Always hoping a Gaboon had been shipped in by mistake, but that never happened to me. When I was about 18 years old, our first Glade's Herp "Green" list came in the mail. I had seen probably 100 price lists come through before, but my eyes got huge when I saw this one had a "venomous" section. The next day I was on the phone and within 2 days, I owned my first cobra. He was a 6 foot, jet black Pakistan Cobra. He was a monster, and my all means should have killed me many times over. There was no one to learn from, so I did as I always had and played it by ear. Trust me, years of wrangling copperheads, does not prepare you for a 6 foot cobra. Well, any way. I lived. My father had a terrible snake phobia. He would not allow a ball python in the house, so my cobra had to be kept very secret. Very few ever knew he was there. Had my father ever opened my walk in closest, the snake would not have had to bite him, soon as he hooded up, my father would have died on the spot. I went off to college to play football for a time and I sold off my entire reptile collection. By this time, I met a few more people into venom and I passed my beloved cobra over to one of them. I came back home in a couple years and rebuilt my collection. Mostly stuff I captured and a few boas and pythons from my old shop. In 1994, I moved to Chattanooga for good. I didn't bring any with at time, but later I brought down a burm that I had owned since 1989 and as of now, 2007, I still have this snake. While in school, I didn't keep much of a collection, but I began to rebuild about 2000 in my last year of college. I had gotten married and moved to a house. Since I was no longer living in a dorm, venomous snakes were on my mind. For our first Christmas, my new wife bought me a Western Diamondback . My passion was re-sparked and I began to collect, buy, sell, and trade. By now there was the Internet and I was able to talk to others who actually shared my interest in venomous snakes. I learned that not all states were like my dear home state, VA and in TN all venomous snakes were illegal. In my neighboring states of GA and AL, one could only keep venomous snakes that were native to the state. This was disconcerting to me, I didn't want to be an outlaw, but I wanted more cobras. Well, the necessity of the situation was the genesis of my focus on Southeastern Pit-Vipers. I had always loved all snakes, but snakes I collected myself always meant more to me then snakes I bought. Now having the access to the Internet, for the first time ever, I had a network of other venomous keepers to talk with and compare notes. Discovering the Southeastern Hot Herp Society website was a god send for me. I had never imagined there were so many people in the world keeping venomous snakes. One of my first contacts with another keeper was none other then Madri Snipes. Mardi had a wealth of knowledge and was always quick with a response when I emailed him. It wasn't long after I joined the society that Chris Harper gave me the opportunity to be one of the website managers. Soon there after, a friend at work developed an interest in reptiles and began to speak to me about the possibility of running a small retail operation. We went into business together and Scenic City Reptiles was born. I still mostly wanted to catch, trade, breed, ect my venomous, but he and I began to deal in balls, geckos, ect. We kept it up for maybe a year and we both lost interest in retailing. I continued running the venomous end under the name, but later changed the name to simply Chuck Hurd Herpetological. The name implied a focus on all reptiles, which I do not have, so the name evolved to Chuck Hurd Serpentology, which is a more accurate depiction of what I do. Aside from propagating Southeastern Pit-Vipers, I have also earned a reputation for my "Venomous Snakes of the Southeastern United States " display and also for public speaking on the complex. I was picked up by the Repticon Expo team, the nations premier reptile expo/show promoters two years ago and have been happily working for them ever since. (www.repticon.com ) During my career I have served as the Reptile Curator at the Chattanooga Nature Center, Reptile Curator at the Lookout Mountain Wild Animal Park, and President of the Tri-State Herpetological Society.
Credentials:
Virginia High Diploma, Honors, College Prep
Associates Degree, Business Administration. Bristol University , Summa Cum Laude
Bachelor of Science Degree, Secondary Social Science, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Tennessee State Teaching License
Georgia State Teaching License
Experience:
President, Tri-State Herpetological Society
Manager, Southeastern Hot Herp Society
Speaker/displayman, Repticon Reptile Expos
Promoter, Bristol VA Hot show, 2003
Former, Curator of Reptiles, Chattanooga Nature Center
Former, Curator of Reptiles, Lookout Mountain Wild Animal Park
Awards:
Virginia High School Honor Roll
Student of the Month, Bristol University
Student of the Quarter, Bristol University
Valedictorian, Bristol University

Hurd's Website: chuckhurd.bravepages.com

Hurd's myspace page: www.myspace.com/chuckhurd

Hurd's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ChuckHurdSerpentology


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