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Snake-handling preacher dies from rattlesnake bite in West Virginia

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Pastor Mack Wolford handles a timber rattlesnake during a service at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, W.Va., on Sept. 3.

West Virginia preacher Mark Randall "Mack" Wolford, who believed Christians should handle snakes to test their faith, died after a rattlesnake bit him over the weekend.

Wolford was bitten on the thigh about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, but he didn't come to the hospital until 10:30 p.m., a nursing supervisor at Bluefield Regional Medical Center  told the Charleston Daily Mail. The incident occurred during an outdoor service at Panther State Forest, about 80 miles west of Bluefield in southern West Virginia, the paper said.

Wolford had turned 44 on Saturday. He had seen his father die of a snakebite when he was teenager, the Daily Mail reported.

The Washington Post Magazine had profiled Wolford in a story in November about the snake-handling faith. The Post said adherents cite Mark 16:17-18: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Snake-handling is legal in West Virginia, and Wolford was trying to keep it alive there and in neighboring states where it is not, the Post reported.

The Daily Mail reported that Wolford was bitten Sunday by a yellow timber rattlesnake -- named Sheba -- that he had often handled.

Wolford's sister told the Post that during the service he passed the snake to another church member and his mother, then laid it on the ground. "He sat down next to the snake, and it bit him on the thigh," the sister said, according to the Post.

The Post said Wolford was taken to a relative's house in Bluefield to recover, as he had from previous bites, but his condition worsened.

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