20-foot python attacks Newport reptile shop owner

Shop owner is recovering at home

NEWPORT, Ky. -- A man was in critical condition after being attacked by a large python at his reptile shop in Northern Kentucky on Monday. But neighbors said Terry Wilkins, the reptile shop owner, is home and recovering.

The incident happened Monday afternoon at the Captive Born Reptiles shop at 635 Monmouth St.

“I come out, there's a girl screaming, beating on the window," said Gary Collins, who works nearby. "I asked her what happened, she kept screaming, 'A snake got him, a snake got him.'"

Officers said that when they arrived, they found the 20-foot, 125-pound snake wrapped around shop Wilkins and blood on the walls.

"They were cleaning the cage," Newport Police Chief Thomas Collins said. "For whatever reason, the snake grabbed the handler by his arm, came from out of his quarters and wrapped around his entire body and his entire neck."

Newport police officials said one of the officers had handled snakes before and knew not to shoot it. Instead, the officers uncoiled the snake from Wilkins' torso and wrangled it back into a cage.

"I grabbed its head," Lt. Greg Rapberger said. "We started pulling on the snake -- kind of straightening it out. At that point in time, Sgt. (Daron) Arnberg -- as I’m pulling -- he started loosening the coils around the guy, and finally the snake came out and we were able to put it back in the cage."

Wilkins suffered a wound to his neck and was in critical condition. He was unconscious when officers arrived, but they were able to revive him after getting him out of the store. He was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for treatment.

Chief Collins credited the two officers with saving Wilkins' life. He said that if the officers had shot the snake, it would have constricted even tighter and killed him.

"Just from experience in back yards, when people kill snakes, they sit there and flop for hours," Rapberger said. "They don’t go quietly."

Investigators said the snake that attacked Wilkins was a breeding snake and was not used to being handled by humans. Officers found more than 100 snakes in the store.

Wilkins now says he wasn't choked by the Python, but that he tripped over it as it wrapped around his legs and he hit his head on the ground.

"I'd say if everything ends up well, he’s probably got a newfound respect for them," Rapberger said. "So -- and it didn’t even bite me -- but when I grabbed a hold of it, I had a really quick newfound respect for it as well."

For Gary Collins, the "insane" scene inside the shop is burned into his memory. 

"I'm shocked -- I'm scarred for life basically," he said. 

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