State College, Pa. — The fatal snakebite in Elk County last month made national news because of the extremely unusual nature of the tragedy.
Russell Davis, 39, of Freedom, was bitten on the ankle by a timber rattlesnake while putting wood on a campfire shortly before midnight on Saturday, July 18, said Don Logan, manager of Bennett’s Valley Ambulance Service, which transported the man to a hospital.
Logan said that Davis, who was visiting his family’s vacation home in Medix Run, after being bitten, walked back to the cabin and told his girlfriend she had to take him to the hospital.
Davis started having trouble breathing along the way, then went into convulsions. She stopped at the Medix Run Hotel tavern to call an ambulance.
By the time they met the ambulance in nearby Weedville, Logan said, Davis was receiving CPR and not breathing. Logan noted that he saw the twin puncture marks on Davis’ ankle from the snakebite.
Davis was transported to Penn Highlands Health Care in St. Marys, about 16 miles away. Doctors at the hospital were able to restart Davis’ heart, Logan said.
According to Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers, Penn Highlands personnel administered anti-venom treatment before Davis was put in a medical helicopter so he could be transported to a Pittsburgh hospital 125 miles away for additional treatment.
But, before he could reach Pittsburgh, he went into full cardiac arrest and the helicopter landed at ACMH Hospital in Kittanning, Armstrong County. He was pronounced dead at 5:23 a.m. before any treatment could be given, Myers reported.
The cause of death was anaphylactic shock, said Coroner Myers, and no autopsy was performed.
Christopher Urban, a herpetologist with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, which is responsible for managing the state’s reptiles, said the agency’s investigators were working to piece together a more complete account of what happened.
He said snakebite deaths in the wild are extremely rare in the state.
“I’ve worked here 15 years and never heard of one,” he told a news reporter.
Urban noted that Elk County was known for its large timber rattlesnake population. He said many parts of the county posted warning signs about rattlesnakes.
Elk County draws large numbers of tourists who come to see the herd of some 1,000 elk that roam the forests and fields there.
Snakebite fatalities truly are extremely unusual in the United States, due to available, high-quality medical treatment.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year, and five to six of those die, according to the according to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida.
Davis was the first person to die from a snakebite in Pennsylvania in at least 25 years.