The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Breaking News

Latest News

May 30, 2012

Details begin to emerge on pastor’s snake bite death

BLUEFIELD — A Mercer County pastor who died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake during a religious service in McDowell County was taken to a Brushfork-area residence before emergency service personnel were called.

Details into the death of Mack Randall Wolford, 44, of Green Valley, emerged Tuesday after it was learned Wolford, pastor of Full Gospel Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka — a church that practices serpent handling — died Monday as a result of a snake bite incurred during a homecoming service.

Lauren Pond, a freelance photojournalist from Washington D.C., was at the weekend service during which Wolford was bitten.

Pond said about 25 people were in attendance at the homecoming service at Panther State Forest. “Randy (Wolford) had invited me down,” Pond said, explaining that she had been working with Wolford for about a year on a documentary project. “I went to it (the homecoming service) last year. This gathering was the second one.”

Pond said Wolford was bitten in the thigh by a timber rattlesnake during the Sunday service.

She said she was shocked when she saw Wolford had been bitten, but those in the congregation did not seem as surprised. “I didn’t expect it to happen,” she said. “I don’t think anyone necessarily expected it, but they’ve dealt with it before so it’s not such a huge shock maybe.”

The area’s most widely known serpent-handling church is Church of Lord Jesus in Jolo, whose minister is Harvey Payne. A family member of Payne’s who answered telephone questions Tuesday noted Wolford was pastor of the Matoaka church, not the Jolo church.

Pond said she did not know Wolford’s medical state after the snake bite. “I don’t know how lucid he was ... people were talking to him.”

“Not too long after the bite — maybe 40 minutes,” Pond said parishioners transported Wolford to a residence in Mercer County.

The Daily Telegraph learned Tuesday Wolford was taken to Plainview Mobile Home Park off Airport Road in Brushfork. It is not known how long Wolford was there before emergency personnel were called.

“We did transport someone from a trailer park with a reported snake bite,” Bluefield Rescue Squad Administrator Sam Pennington said. “I’m not sure what park, but they did transport somebody to Bluefield Regional with a reported snake bite.”

Reports indicate Wolford died Monday as a result of the injuries sustained at the Sunday service.

McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell said his office has never prosecuted anyone for serpent handling, describing it as a “constitutionally protected religious service.”

“I can’t find anything in state code or the state Constitution that would make using snakes in a religious service illegal, regardless of where the service was held,” Bell said.

State park officials said they had no knowledge of a religious service including serpent handling taking place at Panther Wildlife Management Area.

“We are not aware of such an occurrence,” Ken Caplinger, chief of state parks in West Virginia, said. “If we were asked for permission for such a thing to occur, we would not provide permission for that to take place ... if somebody were to do something like that, if would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”

Pond noted she was not covering Sunday’s homecoming service for a news story, but a “longer-form, photo-documentary project.”

She said she had been working with Wolford for about a year on the project.

Pond said she first met Wolford on her third visit to Jolo. “He was one of the most open pastors I’ve ever met about the faith. I visited him last November, and hung out with him ... Randy (Wolford) really helped me understand it. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I understand it. I respect it.”

Although initially declining to be interviewed for a news story, Pond did agree to speak to the Daily Telegraph in clarify and confirm reports, and ensure accurate facts were reported to the public.

— Perry is a member of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph editorial staff.

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • Alpha announces intention to lay off 1,100 surface miners

    Alpha Natural Resources said Thursday it expects to lay off 1,100 workers at 11 southern West Virginia surface coal mines by mid-October, citing dismal markets and federal regulation.

    The announcement dealt another blow to Appalachia's iconic, but dwindling, fossil fuel industry. The company said 2015 industry forecasts show Central Appalachian coal production will be less than half of its 2009 output.

    It's due to a combination of familiar factors, Alpha said: competition from cheaper natural gas, weak domestic and international markets and low coal prices.

     

    July 31, 2014

  • Justice mines have violations in 5 states

    A West Virginia coal billionaire has more than 250 pending violations at mining operations in Kentucky and four other states.

    July 31, 2014

  • VA Greenbrier clinic to remain closed

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Greenbrier County Community Based Outpatient Clinic will remain closed due to ongoing correction of environmental concerns. 

    July 31, 2014

  • prezarrested.jpg Protesters arrested at UMWA Rally in Pittsburgh

    After marching from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the William S. Moorehead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, around 15 United Mine Workers of America (UMW) leaders were arrested.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • Mercer shooting sends one to hospital

     One person has been shot following an apparent altercation in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    July 31, 2014

  • UMWA1.jpg More than 5,000 protesting new EPA rules at rally

    Today, 73 buses will bring miners and UMW members to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a labor rally and march through downtown Pittsburgh.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Kroger restricts pseudoephedrine sales in state

    Supermarket chain Kroger is tightening monthly purchase limits of cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine at its West Virginia stores.

    July 31, 2014

  • ‘Biscuit guy’ makes his mark with anthem at TWV

    The old saying “being at the right place at the right time” couldn’t be more true for Calvin Alexander. Thanks to a salad dressing bottle (and some impressive vocal skills), Alexander was invited to sing the national anthem not once, but twice, at Theatre West Virginia before the opening of “Hatfields and McCoys."

    July 31, 2014

  • legion American Legion posts plan to merge

    To help deal with its decreasing membership numbers, Beckley American Legion Post 70 is planning a merger with Post 32. INCLUDES TOUT VIDEO.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • legal Tort reform group brings message to Beckley

    How can West Virginia create more jobs and have a better business climate, at no cost to taxpayers? Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), says legal reform is one of the answers to that question.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo