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Man dies from rattlesnake bite

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May 23, 2003 12:56PM
Snakebite tragedy called unusual

NORCO: Ross Cooke's family grapples with his death after an encounter with a rattler.


As a child, Ross Cooke raised 17 snakes as pets and grew to love stretching his legs while on a hike. Sometimes he carried a camera to snap photographs or rode a horse in the nature he adored.

You might even have called him a bit of a cowboy, his mother said.

The 50-year-old Norco man certainly seemed like an unlikely candidate to be bitten by a poisonous snake. In the current era of medical technology, it's even more surprising that he would die from the bite.

But now his family is grappling with the realities that still seem so unreal. Cooke died Monday, three days after a rattlesnake bit him while he was hiking in Lytle Creek near Rialto.

"We're all trying so hard to understand how it happened," said his mother,
Kathryn Cooke, in a phone interview Thursday. "It's so unfair to lose him like this."

The San Bernardino County coroner's office still has not determined the
cause of Ross Cooke's death. Officials are waiting on toxicology and tissue
studies, which could take four to six weeks, said Randy Emon, a department spokesman, in a telephone interview.

In all likelihood, though, Emon said, Cooke died from the venom of a rattlesnake, the only type of poisonous snake found in the wild of Southern California.

Snake experts say it's uncommon for any of the six breeds of rattlesnakes
indigenous to California to bite humans. It's even rarer that someone dies, they say.

But Cooke's death should serve as a stern warning to people to stay
away from the snakes, experts say.

Details from interviews with Cooke's mother and county officials are
emerging that might help explain the man's demise.

It was around 11:30 a.m. on May 16 when Cooke parked the truck supplied by his employer, Tyler Refrigeration Corp. of Brea. He climbed out of the vehicle and headed for a short walk near a dry riverbed just north of Interstate 15 and Sierra Avenue. He enjoyed the diversion between jobs and took the opportunity as often as he could.

Cooke ambled over the rock-strewn ground when, 500 yards from the
truck, he stepped on what appeared to be a log. A thick-bodied rattlesnake suddenly jerked into action, surprising him as it twice sank its
fangs into his left shin.

Once he comprehended his situation, Cooke ran back to his truck. He
grabbed his mobile phone and called his wife, a hospital nurse. He phoned
his boss and asked for help finding the nearest hospital. He then drove
the 16 miles to get help at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana.

"I don't know why he didn't call 911. He must have panicked," said
Kathryn Cooke, 80. "If only he'd had a snakebite kit with him. Every hiker
should have one."

Over the next few hours, doctors attended to Ross Cooke, who appeared to be doing fine before developing neurological problems, Emon said.

Kaiser transferred Cooke to Loma Linda University Medical Center because of its expertise in snakebites, he said. The venom likely caused a disorder
called disseminated intravascular coagulation, leading to a series of small
strokes and one large stroke, Emon said.

Cooke's family decided to take him off life support Monday, his mother
said. He would have watched his oldest of two sons graduate from high
school this month, she added.

"I'll always remember him as a good, kind and caring man, just like his
father, who he looked up to so much," Kathryn Cooke said. "That's the
only good thing to come out of this: He's finally with his father again."

Sean Bush, an emergency room doctor at Loma Linda University Medical
Center, said in a telephone interview that he has treated 11 snakebite
victims this spring, an amount he said was typical. He treats as many as
four dozen cases a year, he said.

Each snakebite is different, he said. Some lead to respiratory failure,
allergic reactions or organ failure.

Though serious, rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal, officials say.

"In Southern California, I hear of maybe one or two fatalities out of several hundred bites per year," Dr. Richard Clark, medical director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, said in a phone interview.

Rattlesnake venom contains enzymes that enable the snake to digest its
food. The enzymes cause skin to break down and prevent blood from
clotting, causing hemorrhaging.

A rattlesnake bite victim should remain as still as possible until help
arrives, said Lee Cantrell, assistant director of the San Diego poison
control division.

"The more you move, the more you're going to circulate the venom," Cantrell said in a telephone interview.

Staff writer Andrea Cavanaugh contributed to this report.

Reach George Watson at (909) 368-9457 or gwatson@pe.com


Man dies from rattlesnake bite

katrina island 9397May 23, 2003 12:56PM

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