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Colorado Owner killed by snake had been warned in '98

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Posted by Robert Sposato on February 12, 2002 at 12:08:52:


Owner killed by snake had been warned in '98

By Sheba R. Wheeler
Denver Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 12, 2002 - AURORA - The snake owner who died Sunday when
his pet Burmese python strangled him had been ordered by a judge three years
ago to get rid of a similar snake that was too large.

Officials aren't sure whether it's the same snake that killed Richard
Barber, 43, of Aurora.

Barber died of asphyxiation when Monty, his 11-foot-long, 43-pound female
snake, coiled herself around his head, neck and chest and squeezed him to
death, according to an Arapahoe County Coroner's autopsy report released

Records show that Barber was found guilty in October 1998 of violating a
city code that makes it illegal to keep a snake more than 6 feet long. He
was ordered to take the snake out of the Aurora city limits, said Cheryl
Conway, spokeswoman for the Aurora Animal Care Division. An anonymous caller
had told division officials a large snake had been seen in Barber's

"He was given a month to relocate the reptile," Conway said. "Animal care
went back out for a follow-up inspection Nov. 11, 1998, and we found that he
had removed the snake."

The division is still investigating what caused Monty to become aggressive
with her owner, who had apparently raised her from a baby.

Monty, believed to be about 5 years old, was resting comfortably Monday in a
padlocked cage at Animal Care, her long, thick body coiled around a pink
towel with a heating pad underneath to regulate her temperature.

The Denver Zoo will keep the snake for a couple of days and help it find a
new home, according to spokeswoman Angela Baier.

"It's doubtful that any accredited zoo would want this kind of snake," Baier
said. "It's not very common in zoos because they're common in the pet

Authorities said Barber had taken Monty out of her cage Sunday afternoon and
wrapped her around his neck to show his roommates. Suddenly, Barber's face
contorted and he fell to the ground, a movement that may have frightened the
snake and caused her to constrict, authorities said.

It took four firefighters and at least one police officer to pry the snake
off Barber with their nightsticks.

As three firefighters rushed Barber upstairs to revive him, a firefighter
left holding the snake was suddenly knocked off his feet when the snake
coiled around his arm and began dragging him across the floor, said Rory
Chetelat, spokesman for the Aurora Fire Department.

The firefighter eventually spotted a cage, and he steered the snake toward
it until his colleagues came back and helped put the snake in its cage.

Conway said Burmese pythons do not make good long-term pets because they can
grow up to 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, requiring at least one person
for every 4 feet of snake to handle and support the reptile.

But Barbara Huggins, a licensed reptile rescuer, said the issue isn't
whether people should be allowed to own them.

"The people who own them have to know what they are doing," she said. "There
are at least hundreds of people who own these animals and never have had any

Burmese python owner Jay Barr, 20, of Longmont said a python can be a
rewarding, social pet if cared for properly.

Barr, who volunteers at Colorado Reptile Rescue, has had his female python
for two years since it was an 18-inch hatchling. The snake is more than 10
feet long and weighs about 35 pounds.

Burmese pythons are generally docile. They crave regular social interaction
and can become alienated, edgy and aggressive when handled if they are kept
primarily for display, Barr said.

Mark Berger, 23, of Colorado Springs, works with Colorado Reptile Rescue in
that city. He said that in 2001, the city's organization took in 250 snakes,
iguanas and other reptiles because people could no longer care for them.

"You can socialize a snake. You can't tame a snake. At any time, they can
turn on you. Virtually every accident is because of an error on the owner's
part," Berger said.

One other person in Colorado has been squeezed to death by a pet python.
Derek Romero, 15, of Commerce City, was killed in 1993 when his family's
111/2-foot pet Burmese python crushed his torso.

Denver Post staff writer Jim Kirksey contributed to this report.

Robert J. Sposato
(732) 294-3038

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