published Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Friends beat authorities to Westbrook’s snakes

From left to right: Derek Schrader, 20, Michael Clark, 32, and Tim Lunsford, 36. The three men are charged with numerous counts of illegal possession of native wildlife.
From left to right: Derek Schrader, 20, Michael Clark, 32, and Tim Lunsford, 36. The three men are charged with numerous counts of illegal possession of native wildlife.

Wade Westbrook was lying dead from a snake bite at his home.

He was gone.

His friends feared his snakes would soon go, too, when authorities arrived on scene to investigate.

So the day he died — Jan. 29 — they went to his home at 1050 Blanton Drive in East Ridge and gathered up the serpents, authorities say.

“They knew authorities were going to come, so they moved them,” said Dan Hicks, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency information officer. “We later got information from another source they had them.”

On Wednesday, three men turned themselves in on warrants for numerous counts of illegal possession of native wildlife.

Tim Lunsford, 36; Derek Schrader, 20; and Michael Clark, 32, all posted $1,000 bonds Wednesday at the Hamilton County Jail for one charge each and were released on their own recognizance for the remaining charges. None of them could be reached for comment.

Tennessee law prohibits people from holding any native species in a captive environment or transporting any species that could pose a risk to public safety, Hicks said.

Wildlife authorities confiscated 42 snakes — some of the three suspects’ and some Westbrook’s. The count included 38 venomous snakes, records show, including puff adders and Western diamondback rattlesnakes.

The snakes will be used for research and education, said Hicks, who declined to say where they were taken.

Schrader and Lunsford live in the 4100 block of East Ridge Drive, which is several blocks away from East Ridge Elementary School. The public risk is “an example right there. That’s why it’s illegal to have a snake in captivity,” Hicks said.

Lunsford was charged with four counts of illegal possession of native wildlife for nonvenomous snakes, six counts of illegal housing of Class I wildlife, six counts of illegal possession of Class I wildlife and three counts of transporting Class I wildlife. He had 10 snakes in his possession, records show, and his next court date is March 30.

Schrader was charged with three counts of transporting Class I wildlife, 16 counts of illegal possession of Class I wildlife and 16 counts of illegal housing of Class I wildlife. He had 16 snakes seized, records show, and his next court date is March 30.

Clark was charged with three counts of transporting Class I wildlife, 16 counts of illegal possession of Class I wildlife and 16 counts of illegal housing of Class I wildlife. He had 16 snakes seized, records show, and his next court date is March 7.

Authorities previously arrested 38-year-old Chuck Hurd, of Gate City, Va., a snake enthusiast, on 48 wildlife law violations.

The arrests this week are part of an ongoing investigation surrounding Hurd’s case, Hicks said, with possibly more arrests coming.

Hurd’s next court date is set for March 30.

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