There are a lot of ways to settle disputes with a neighbor. You could hash it out over a beer, reaching some sort of consensus through discussion. You could involve a neutral third party, whether in an official capacity (like a peace officer or judge) or by agreeing to let another neighbor who has no beef with either of you assess the situation. Heck, you could just silently resent this person who, by a sheer accident of fate and geography, happens to be in your life in a surprisingly intimate capacity and who could well end up being there for the rest of your natural lives. You coul let it fester into something that fills you with inexplicable rage every time you see the overgrown hedges that they refuse to trim for some unknowable reason.
But here’s something you shouldn’t do: you should not, under any circumstances, capture a rattlesnake, bite its rattle off with your teeth, sneak into your neighbor’s RV, and release it in his home in the hope that it will silently strike and end your argument with finality.
And yet, that’s precisely what a Caldwell County man is accused of doing. According to police, at an RV community in Dale—about ten miles east of Lockhart—39-year-old Felton Ryan Saunter was arrested and charged with misdemeanors for deadly conduct and criminal trespass. Keith Monroe, who lives in the RV where the snake was discovered, told police that he saw Saunter emerge from the home, and then found the rattler on the driver’s side. Monroe told police that he killed the snake and then called authorities. There’s no word from the police affidavit about what, exactly, the argument was about, but we’ll assume it got fairly heated.
Releasing snakes in an attempt to get them to strike at one’s enemies is a rare practice—there are no statistics collected on the number of homicide-by-snakebite incidents that occur, but a 2012 study out of India found what they believed to be that country’s first incident of a contract killer using venomous snakes to carry out a murder. In the U.S., meanwhile, members of an underground poker ring with snakes in its logo were arrested in 2007 on charges of conspiracy to commit murder in Colorado after planning to use rattlesnakes to collect debts from players who hadn’t paid up. According to an Associated Press report from the time, the plan included building a three-foot-by-three-foot wooden box that they intended to fill with snakes, then cut holes in the lid that would let them put their target’s feet inside, but would prevent them from pulling them back out. (They subsequently planned to leave the body near a hiking trail, presumably to deflect suspicion.) In the vaguely-lawless Los Angeles of the 1930s, meanwhile, a fella known by the name of “Snake Joe” was sentenced to 150 years in prison after using rattlesnakes—a pair of them named “Lethal” and “Lightning,” naturally—in the murder of his girlfriend, in one of the city’s more notorious cases of the era.
It is also, of course, the plot to the 2006 Samuel L. Jackson cult classic Snakes on a Plane.
In the 2007 case in Colorado, the suspects were charged (and eventually pled guilty) to felony charges, while Saunter faces only a pair of misdemeanors. “Deadly conduct” is a Texas statute that covers behavior that could result in the death of a person, but which involves a rather more haphazard approach to their potential death than a more serious charge like criminal attempt of murder. Common examples tend toward pointing a gun at a person, regardless of whether or not the trigger is pulled, or hunters firing into a building without first determining whether the building is occupied. Prosecutors tend to have broad discretion in terms of the charges they file, and criminal attempt charges are uncommon in Texas—typically, prosecutors tend to file charges like “aggravated assault” to cover them, which wouldn’t apply in this case.
In any event, the story of what happened out in Dale is just one of many tales here in 2018, the Summer of Snakes. Last month, we saw a man bitten by the severed head of a rattler, not to mention nonvenomous snake stories including:
- a snake emerging from a toilet in Bee County
- a snake hanging out on the ceiling fan of a Waco restaurant
- a classroom beset by a snake
- a seven-foot snake set up in the wrought iron grille of the front door of a home in Bell County
Those sssssurprising encounters likely occurred because high temperatures have driven snakes indoors at rates that we typically don’t see at this point in the summer. It’d be wise to avoid letting a situation like the one in Dale, which involved a venomous snake placed deliberately, cause you too much anxiety about the very common and harmless snakes that might show up in a person’s home this summer.