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    Zoo volunteer killed by deadly snake bite

Friday, December 17, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A zoo volunteer was killed when one of 10 venomous snakes she kept as pets bit her, authorities said Friday.

When police found Anita Finch, a note clenched in a severely swollen hand read: "Northridge Hospital -- Ask for ICU," said a county coroner's spokesman.

"We can only surmise she was attempting to seek help but was not able to do so because whatever happened, happened so suddenly," said spokesman Scott Carrier. He said it was the county's first known snake-bite death this year.

The 33-year-old woman was among 40 people in an animal keeper's training course at the Los Angeles Zoo and was to take a final exam Saturday, a step in becoming a full-time employee, said Michael Dee, the zoo's general curator.

"She loved reptiles and she loved to learn," Dee said. "This is devastating to us. She was one of our promising up-and-coming students."

Jennie McNary, the zoo's curator of mammals, agreed.

"She had a strong interest in animals and we feel she would have had a long history with the zoo," McNary said. "We're real sad. We feel badly for her family."

Finch lived in the Vicabob mobile home park in Van Nuys with 12 snakes, 10 of them dangerous, and six flesh-eating piranha fish. Vicabob manager Charlene McMorris said she knew some of the snakes her tenant kept were illegal.

"Maybe I should have called animal control, but that would have killed her," McMorris said. "I always thought that if she got hurt, I would remove them while she was in the hospital."

Animal control officers killed the 10 deadly snakes and delivered their heads to the coroner's office to determine which one bit Finch.

Dan Knapp, city animal control general manager, believes Finch's foot-long Gabon Viper, a Central African snake that can grow to 7-feet and 18-pounds, killed her. Coroner's investigators believe it could have been Finch's Hog-Nosed Sand Viper.

Finch apparently caught most of her pets in Arizona or in California's higher-elevation desert land. But the Gabon Viper and Hog-Nosed Sand Viper are not indigenous to the United States and may have been bought illegally.

Finch also had an extremely rare South Pacific rattlesnake and an assortment of other rattlesnakes, including two, 4-foot Eastern diamondback rattlers.

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