A Florida man bitten by a venomous 4-foot-long water moccasin in the face last week has had his condition upgraded from critical to good, according to hospital officials. Austin Hatfield, who suffered massive facial swelling from a bite to the lip, is recovering and expected to survive. However, there is a question as to how the young man got bit in the first place, a question of whether the snake escaped or Hatfield was handling the dangerous water moccasin and, of all things, kissing it prior to the snakebite.
Orlando Weekly reported April 24 that, contrary to the original report, which recounted events as Austin Hatfield trying to retrieve the deadly snake after it got loose from its container (a pillowcase), his friends are telling a different tale — that he was actually kissing the water moccasin (also known as a cottonmouth) when it bit him. Jason Belcher, a friend who was there at the Wimauma, Florida, home and witnessed the snakebite, said that Hatfield had actually removed the snake from the pillowcase and had attempted to kiss it.
“He ripped it off his face, threw it on the ground and he started swelling up immediately,” Belcher told Fox Orlando (WOFL). “It was pretty frightening. We’ve done a lot of stuff together. This is the one thing that scared me the most.”
But 18-year-old Austin Hatfield, who has posted several images of himself with snakes (including one where he repeatedly kisses a small snake), didn’t just kiss the water moccasin once. According to Belcher, he kissed the snake 13 times.
“He kisses it right on the head. Right on the mouth. He’s not afraid of death,” said best friend Belcher, according to Bay 9 News in Tampa. He said Hatfield was actually keeping count of the kisses. He continued: “Alright he’s kissed it 12 times. The 13 wasn’t a lucky one. We was sitting in the kitchen and he ran out of the room saying , ‘Hospital, hospital. Now, now.’”
Hatfield was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. He was administered antivenom to counteract the snakebite and slowly began to recover.
The teen originally acquired the water moccasin while swimming a week prior to getting bit. He decided to make a pet of it and had taken to keeping it in a pillowcase on his bed.
Florida Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are still waiting for Hatfield to recover enough to talk with them about the circumstances of his keeping and handling a venomous snake, which is against the law in the state of Florida without a permit. In fact, according to Commission officials, the teen could face charges and even jail time for having the snake in his possession.