Yorktown boys co-crew coach Andy Bacas won’t open a suitcase the same way again. After delaying unpacking his luggage until Monday following a Spring Break team retreat to South Carolina, the second-year coach was jolted with an improbable reality.
While unloading his belongings, he experienced a stinging pain in his hand, only to realize the source was the most unlikeliest of creatures: a juvenile canebrake rattlesnake.
The venomous white-and-black-striped snake — estimated to be a 10-feet long — sank its fangs into Bacas, enough to inject a small amount of venom into his hand.
It was then Bacas then dialed emergency officials.
Arlington County fire officials were dispatched, and upon arrival took the suitcase outside and doused the snake with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher.
Bacas was rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he received antivenom treatment upon arrival. According to school officials, Bacas was still being treated on Tuesday, though he is expected to recover. Multiple calls to his cell phone were not answered.
According to Dr. Sandy Christmus, who is one of five veterinarians at the Oakton-Vienna Veterinary Hospital, a bite can cause severe pain, inflammation and blood loss. The toxin causes a paralysis of tissues, which can affect both breathing and moving abilities.
<b>THE CREW TEAM</b> went on a Spring Break training camp at Camp Bob Cooper, which is a peninsula extending into Lake Marion, in Summerton, S.C.
The team worked in the water up to six hours a day and according to reports, the bags were outside for approximately an hour. It was then that the snake must have snuck into his Baca’s luggage.
The group of 75 students and eight chaperones arrived at Yorktown via bus late Saturday morning, but Bacas did not open his suitcase until Monday. Bacas, who is a Washington-Lee graduate, helped Yorktown to a resurgence in his first season as co-head coach.
At the Virginia state championships regatta in May, the Patriots finished in second of an 18-boat field, which marked the first time Yorktown varsity men's eight boat has finished as high as second since the Yorktown crew program's founding in 1968.
"I simply cannot say enough about what these kids have accomplished this year," Bacas told The Connection last season. "They have exceeded every expectation this year, be it in the weight room, on the ergometer, the running track or on the water."
His son, Peter Bacas, is currently a sophomore on the team.
Crew practice was canceled on Monday afternoon when the team was made aware of the accident. The Patriots are still scheduled to compete in a St. Andrews scrimmage on Saturday at Noxontown Pond in Delaware.
<b>ACCORDING TO CHRISTMUS</b>, the incident and its surrounding circumstances are very rare.
“I’ve only seen one or two in my 12-year career,” said Christmus, who spent most of his childhood in South Carolina. “I think it’s quite fascinating.”
The veterinarian also believes the serpent slithered into the bag seeking warmth, which might explain why it stayed secured in the bag for two days.
“Snakes like to find a cool, quiet place to rest,” Christmus said. “They’re generally pretty laidback animals. They get sun during day and when they’re not hunting or eating they don’t do a lot.”
Christmus said that Bacas and Arlington County fire officials both followed correct procedure in responding to the freak incident.
“The key is to get the person or the animal to a hospital as soon as possible,” Christmus said. “The key is to get to the hospital quickly so that you can get the antivenom. Most vet hospitals don’t carry it.”
There are three types of rattlesnakes that are indigenous to South Carolina, but according to Christmus, no venomous snakes reside in this area.