A rattlesnake handler with more than 20 years of experience was showing off his skills at a festival in Texas over the weekend when he suffered a fatal bite. Eugene De Leon Sr. was bitten on the shoulder around 1pm Saturday as he handled a western diamondback rattlesnake in front of a crowd at the Freer Rattlesnake Roundup, the city's largest festival, per KIII-TV and People. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Corpus Christi but died approximately eight hours later, according to Freer Police Chief Hector Doria. "My brother has gained his wings today doing what he loved doing," Monica Dimas wrote on Facebook.
"After many years of handling these things today was not your day with them," Dimas added. Congressional candidate Sandra Whitten said she and her family enjoyed "watching [De Leon] handle these deadly snakes with ease, almost like he was simply dancing with them. He had a smile on his face and clearly joy in his heart," per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "The love and dedication he displayed for his community was witnessed everyday from being a member of the Freer [Volunteer] Fire Department to being a call away for local residents to assist with removing snakes from their property," the Freer Chamber of Commerce wrote in a statement. "He was always ready to help." (Read more snake handling stories.)