McLEAN, Va. – Maybe he heard a faint rattling around in his luggage, but he surely never assumed the sound came from a stowaway snake sealed in his bag and waiting to attack.
Alas, that's what happened to Andy Bacas, an Arlington man who was taken to the hospital Monday after being bitten by what authorities believe was a juvenile canebrake rattlesnake.
Bacas, a rowing coach at Yorktown High School, told fire and rescue personnel that he reached into his luggage Monday morning after returning from a team trip to South Carolina when he felt a sharp pain. That's when he saw the nearly foot-long snake and quickly slammed the luggage shut with the snake inside, said Chief Ben Barksdale, spokesman for the Arlington County Fire Department.
Fire and rescue workers took the suitcase outside, opened it and blasted it with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, essentially freezing the snake and killing it, Barksdale said.
"The guy who responded had seen it done on TV," Barksdale said of the technique, adding that it can be effective for bees or other wild animals.
Bacas was in stable condition Monday afternoon at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Barksdale said he had no information that the snake was deliberately put into the luggage.
Bob Myers, director of the American International Rattlesnake Museum in New Mexico, said it's conceivable that a snake would crawl into luggage seeking warmth or shelter, though his first instinct was to suspect some sort of prank.
The venom from a canebrake rattlesnake can be particularly harmful, but a juvenile rattlesnake is not usually large enough to deliver enough venom to be lethal, Myers said. While the snake found in Arlington was less than a foot long, adult canebrakes can grow to a length of six feet.
"There's an old wives' tale that says a baby rattlesnake bite is worse than an adult bite, but that's just not true," Myers said.
Myers said three or four people die each year from rattlesnake bites in the United States, out of perhaps 8,000 bites a year.