Gilbert De Leon, 37, of Nixa, Missouri, went to the James River on Friday, May 22, with his girlfriend. He died the next day after being bitten by a venomous snake while he was wading into the water.
"His girlfriend reported that he yelled he'd been bitten by a snake and got out of the river to find he'd been bitten twice — once on each leg," said Christian County Coroner Brad Cole. "I'm not sure what kind of snake bit him, but the only venomous water snake I'm aware of is a cottonmouth. It could have been something else, but we just don't know.”
De Leon’s girlfriend asked him to go to the hospital, but he refused and went home instead.
"That evening he got lethargic but just wouldn't go to a hospital," Cole said. "They went to bed and she reported he was snoring more loudly than usual. The next morning when she woke up she found him dead.”
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Cole said the snake that killed De Leon most likely wasn’t large — the fang marks were 3/4 inch wide. Although a cause of death hasn’t been officially determined, Cole suspects a cottonmouth snake is responsible.
Missouri has five species of venomous snakes, but cottonmouth snakes are semi-aquatic and are usually not aggressive unless threatened. Cole said he’s never seen a snake bite fatality before.
"We've sent off for lab tests that will take about eight weeks to get back," Cole said. "The lab won't tell us anything about a snake bite, but it will say if there was a drug overdose or alcohol overdose. However, I didn't find anything else that looked to me like the cause of death was anything other than a snake bite.”