Pet python kills owner? Keen snake handler Dan Brandon, 31, died of asphyxiation at his home in Church Crookham, Hampshire, on August 25 last year, Basingstoke Coroners’ Court was told.
His mother Babs said he kept 10 snakes and 12 tarantulas in his room at the family home and had had Tiny, an African rock python, since she was small enough to fit in his hand.
Coroner Andrew Bradley recorded a verdict of misadventure and said: “The most likely scenario is that Tiny was engaged with Dan – I have no doubt about that.
“She was coiling around him, at which point I have no idea. There was a point at which either she takes hold of him unexpectedly or trips him up or some other mechanism.”
Mr Bradley said the snake then hid, probably “because of the shock of him falling or because of his reaction”.
He added Mr Brandon was asphyxiated “as a result of contact with Tiny”, and that he “cannot see any other reason” for the death.
Mr Brandon’s parents, brother and sister were in court, and Mrs Brandon told the coroner the snake loved her son, was his “baby”, and that he never felt threatened by Tiny and was aware of how strong she was.
Pathologist Dr Adman al-Badri said his diagnosis of asphyxiation was one he came to by exclusion, but said what he found included a haemorrhage behind one eye, plus burst blood vessels, and congested lungs – another sign of asphyxiation.
He told the court he examined the neck muscles and “dissected them layer by layer” and that there were “no specific signs on his neck”.
Dr al-Badri said Mr Brandon was “obviously fit and healthy” and had “no disease whatsoever”.
The court also heard how there were no bite marks or puncture wounds caused by a snake discovered on his body, and Mr Bradley ruled there was no aggression from the python.
Reptile expert Professor John Cooper said he examined Tiny at the Brandon’s home in November and measured her at eight foot and four inches long.
Describing Mr Brandon, who had kept snakes for 16 years, as someone who was “obviously experienced” at caring for tropical creatures, he told the court he “would have known how to unwrap a python”.
Inspecting the skin, which Tiny shed later that November, Professor Cooper said if the snake had coiled around Mr Brandon, there would have been scratches visible on the skin caused by him trying to get her off – of which there were none.
He said African Rock Pythons are “rather more temperamental”, but “got to know their handlers”, and that if Mr Brandon had been bitten by the snake, it “would have been obvious”.
Mrs Brandon told the court on the night of her son’s death she heard a bang coming from his room, but had assumed it was a dumbbell falling or that he knocked something over.
She later discovered Mr Brandon unconscious and face down on the floor of his small bedroom that was packed full of vivariums, called 999 and could see Tiny was not in her tank.
Mrs Brandon said she later discovered the snake coiled under a cabinet, and revealed that there had previously been occasions when the snake would “strike out” if she entered the room. Tiny was eventually put back in her tank by Mr Brandon’s friends.
Describing her son’s relationship with the reptile, she told the court he never got bitten by Tiny, that he was wary of her, and was aware of how she behaved.
In a statement issued after the conclusion of the inquest, read on behalf of the family by a detective investigating the case, it said Mr Brandon as a son, brother, uncle and best friend was “one of the funniest people you could wish to meet”.
“I cry every day and night and relive that evening all the time,” the statement written by Mrs Brandon added. “All the family wanted was answers to our questions, and I have no idea yet whether we have that or will.”