WEST BABYLON, N.Y. — It's one of the most poisonous snakes on the planet, so when an Egyptian saw-scaled viper bit its owner, Richard Downing, Monday night, he knew that he had to do whatever it took to save his life.
He called in a Medevac helicopter to airlift him from his home here to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Jacobi is the region's venomous bite treatment center. Downing knew that his need was great.
"That snake kills more people than any snake in the world," he told PIX11 News Tuesday afternoon. "They [strike] really fast and have very toxic venom."
Downing, 32, has significant experience with poisonous snakes, as well as a significant collection of them. "I'm trained to do this," he said in an interview on his front porch, still wearing the pajamas he'd worn the night before, when he was airlifted to the hospital.
"I worked in exotic pet stores," he said, and has kept poisonous snakes as pets for "15 years with no problems." The viper that bit him was one of six venomous snakes that he owned.
"All it takes," Downing continued, "is one slight mishap, and your life could be over."
The viper's bite left just a pinprick wound. It was not quite deep enough to do damage, doctors concluded. Downing drew the same conclusion, after he surprisingly didn't show any side effects after being airlifted to the medical center and blood-tested there.
"If she injected venom in my finger," he said, "I would not be here right now."
Downing's venomous snake collection is in violation of New York law. Officers from the Suffolk County SPCA and the state's department of environmental conservation confiscated Downing's snakes.
They're being moved to a sanctuary in Massachusetts that specializes in reptile care, including that of poisonous snakes.
It's a move that comes as a relief to Downing's neighbors. None of them knew that the animal-loving man who moved in a year ago had animals that could damage their pets, as well as them.
"When I first heard about [his fondness for animals," said a neighbor across the street who gave only her first name, Dolores, "I said, 'Do you have a big snake that could wrap itself around something?'" She said that Downing factually told her no.
"I didn't think of poisonous snakes," Dolores said.
Downing said that he intends to pay fines that will be levied against him for breaking the law.
In the end, he said, he's just grateful that he didn't experience the worst possible situation.
"I was playing Russian roulette," he told PIX11 News.