published Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Snake collector takes plea deal

  • photo
    Derek Lee Schrader, 20, accepted a plea deal in the case of the man who died from a snakebite earlier this year. He was initially charged with illegal housing and possession of wildlife.
    Contributed Photo

The last of four men facing state wildlife charges after a local man died from a snakebite earlier this year entered a plea of guilty Wednesday.

Derek Lee Schrader, 20, accepted a plea deal in Hamilton County General Sessions Court. Judge Christine Sell gave him a suspended sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail.

Schrader was initially charged with 16 counts of illegal housing of Class I wildlife and 16 counts of illegal possession of Class I wildlife. Court documents show he possessed venomous snakes including timber rattlesnakes and pygmy rattlesnakes.

“They pled on half of [the charges] and we agreed to dismiss half of them,” said Ben Boyer, Hamilton County assistant district attorney.

Eight counts each of unlawful housing and illegal possession were dropped as a part of the deal, he said. Schrader also was ordered to pay $1,000 in court costs.

Schrader declined to comment outside the courtroom.

On Jan. 29, Wade Westbrook, 26, of East Ridge, died from an allergic reaction to a copperhead bite. His friends, including Schrader, Michael Clark and Tim Lunsford, went to Westbrook’s home afterward and collected the snakes.

Boyer said Clark and Lunsford received similar deals in May.

Schrader’s sentence was delayed because the wildlife counts caused him to be charged with violating probation in a separate case in Georgia, Boyer said.

Chuck Hurd, of Gate City, Va., received a similar sentence after he was initially charged with 48 wildlife violations. Westbrook sought out Hurd in 2007 to learn about venomous snake handling.

Hurd denied giving the copperhead to Westbrook, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials said none of the charges against the defendants have “bearing on” Westbrook’s death, according to archives.

TWRA agents confiscated 42 snakes from the three defendants, including some the friends took from Westbrook’s home after he died.

The snakes will be used for research and education purposes, said Dan Hicks, TWRA public information officer.

“Tennessee wildlife officials will continue to investigate possession and transportation of poisonous and natural species,” Hicks said in a telephone interview.

Right2Know at http://www.right2know.com
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