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Autopsy may not shed light on snake bite mystery

Toxicology results for a Scotsman found dead after picking up a box of venomous snakes are expected in six weeks, Little Rock police said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toxicology results for a Scotsman found dead after picking up a box of venomous snakes are expected in six weeks, Little Rock police said.

But the results won't show whether Garrick Wales, 48, was bitten by one of the four snakes, which were found at an intersection near downtown the day after Wales' body was discovered.

"It could show a heart attack or drugs in the system, but not necessarily show a snake bite," said police spokesman Sgt. Terry Hastings. "Snake venom (contains) enzymes, and enzymes are absorbed by the body."

Even though it's not clear if Wales died from a snake bite, the case may be generating an inaccurate view of snake owners, a Little Rock snake expert said.

"I wish it had not happened here in Little Rock, because now you have people who are jumping into thinking there's a lot of exotic venomous snakes out there, which is not the case," said David Westbrook, who owns Enriched Environs, a company that teaches people about dangerous snakes. "The majority of people that are bitten are outdoors people, not people who keep them in activity."

Wales was found May 13 in a rental car near the airport, pale and covered in vomit.

Police have ruled out any criminal activity in the case.

"It was probably accidental if anything," Hastings said.

Wales, a computer programmer, was said to have been in Little Rock on business. Police said he ordered the snakes from an Internet reptile dealer in Florida.

Police are trying to confirm that Wales was driving the snakes to a friend, which he apparently told the Florida snake dealer.

Westbrook, who has six poisonous Arkansas snakes in his collection, said deadly snakes were trendy about 20 years ago, but the trend has now faded. He said it would be strange if a person had the snakes delivered, since it's not illegal to own the animals.

"That doesn't seem like a logical progression," Westbrook said. "And then if he went and picked these up and opened these in his car he was doing something extremely stupid. You can imagine if one of these had gotten out."

The snakes found this month included a 14-inch-long twig snake, a 6-foot-long green mamba, a 4-foot-long black mamba, and a 5-foot-long forest cobra. The resident who found the snakes took them to the Little Rock Zoo, which turned them over to the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas.

Wales, of Kilmacolm, Scotland, was the father of three and a programmer who owned a computer information business. His wife told a Scottish newspaper that she didn't know her husband had any interest in snakes.