Snake handler Eugene De Leon Sr. dies after bite at festival

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Snake handler Eugene De Leon Sr. dies after bite at festival

A veteran snake handler has died after he was bitten by a rattlesnake at a festival in south Texas, relatives and officials said.

Eugene De Leon Sr., 60, who had wrangled snakes for more than 20 years, died at a hospital Saturday – hours after he was bitten by a rattlesnake at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Freer, KIII reported.

Leon, who was bitten in the shoulder, was airlifted to a hospital in Corpus Christi, where he succumbed to his injuries about eight hours after the incident, Freer’s police chief told the station.

Organizers at the snake show said De Leon was handling rattlesnakes in front of revelers when he was bitten.

The event — the largest festival of the year in the city of 2,600 residents — is operated by the Freer Chamber of Commerce, which offered its condolences in a statement Sunday.

“The love and dedication he displayed for his community was witnessed every day from bring a member of the Freer [Volunteer] Fire Department to being a call away for local residents to assist with removing snakes from their property,” the organization said. “He was always ready to help.”

De Leon “did it all” in Freer when it came to snakes, including regular appearances at the annual festival and spots on local wildlife shows, the organization said.

De Leon was bitten in the shoulder at Rattlesnake Roundup.
De Leon was bitten in the shoulder at Rattlesnake Roundup.
Facebook / Monica Dimas
He had been handling snakes for over 20 years before the bite.
He had been handling snakes for over 20 years before the bite.
Facebook / Tina Trevino

“You showed all of us to follow our passion and give back to our community,” the statement continued. “May you Rest in Peace Eugene.”

De Leon’s sister, Monica Dimas, said her brother “gained his wings” doing what he loved.

“He had a passion for snake handling at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Freer,” Dimas wrote on Facebook early Sunday. “After many years of handling these things, today was not your day with them … Rest in Peace my brother.”

De Leon’s Facebook profile features a photo showing him holding a large snake as a young girl grabs onto its midsection while smiling for the camera. Another shot from 2019 shows him holding a snake inside a cage as people look on.

De Leon's sister said he "gained his wings" doing what he loved.
De Leon’s sister Monica Dimas said he “gained his wings” doing what he loved.
Facebook / Monica Dimas
The Freer Chamber of Commerce said De Leon was "always ready to help" his community.
The Freer Chamber of Commerce said De Leon was “always ready to help” his community.
Facebook / Monica Dimas

De Leon was “well loved” by all who knew him, according to Sandra Whitten, a Republican vying to represent Texas in the House of Representatives.

“My family and I enjoyed watching him handle these deadly snakes with ease, almost like he was simply dancing with them,” Whitten said on Facebook. “He had a smile on his face and clearly joy in his heart. Pray for his family and friends as they mourn his loss. Our community won’t be the same without him.”

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