A slithery surprise found in a car at a grocery store parking lot may have been a prank rather than the work of Mother Nature — and if it was, it turned into a prank that kept on surprising.
Sherry Hart found a pair of garter snakes in the back seat of her car on a recent shopping trip, only to find more under a floor mat.
"This lady was freaking out next to her car," says Will Brinkerhoff, 17, an employee at the North Coast Fred Meyer.
Eventually more than 20 of the harmless snakes were found inside the car, some pencil-thin and one the diameter of a quarter and 3 feet long.
Brinkerhoff recognized Hart's granddaughter, Paige Hart, as a classmate from Warrenton High School, so he offered to help last week, along with another Fred Meyer employee, Taylor Hageman, 17, and several customers.
One man dumped out his groceries and gave Hart the plastic carrying bags she could fill them with snakes.
When Warrenton police Officer Jim Gaebel arrived he guessed that one snake must have gotten into the car and had babies. Gaebel later told Hart that in all his years in police work, this was his first snake call.
But Hart believes it was a prank.
"Who did it? We don't know," she said. But she believes her car was chosen because a window stuck in the open position made it an easy target in the big parking lot.
Hart said her son, Jim Hart, a former Warrenton police officer, agreed and an Oregon State University extension agent later dismissed the theory that the little snakes could have been born inside her car.
But the story did not end there.
‘They just keep coming and coming’
When Hart and her granddaughter drove home, "two snakes fell out of the dashboard right where my feet were," Hart said.
She and her granddaughter put the snakes in a bucket and dumped them in a vacant lot across the street from Hart's home in downtown Warrenton, just a block from City Hall.
The next day, after a friend pulled off some paneling inside the car, they found yet another big snake. The day after that, three more snakes emerged from her car's innards. One of them bit her as she was pulling it out of the dashboard.
"I'm not afraid of snakes. But when they just keep coming and coming, you kind of get a little paranoid," Hart said.