Pet python blamed in death of 2-year-old girl


Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 12:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 7:37 p.m.
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By Austin L. Miller

OXFORD - A 2-year-old girl died Wednesday morning when her family’s pet Burmese python slithered into her crib, wrapped itself around her and crushed her to death.

The snake’s owner, Charles Jason Darnell, told investigators that the yellow-and-white snake had apparently escaped from a glass aquarium in the living room overnight and made its way into the child’s bedroom.

Darnell, who lives at the home with the girl and her mother, told officers that just after midnight Wednesday he found the 8½-foot-long snake out of its glass case. He put it in a bag and returned it to the enclosure. When he awoke in the morning, he discovered that the snake was again out of its case.

Moments later, he found it wrapped around the toddler in her crib.

Darnell, 32, told investigators he got a knife and began stabbing the snake and it slithered away under a dresser.

The toddler, Shaiunna Hare, was dead when deputies arrived at the home about 10 a.m. Her body was taken to the Medical Examiner’s office in Leesburg for an autopsy, according to Lt. Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities, including officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, entered the house late Wednesday afternoon, pulled the snake from its hiding place and stretched it out on the front lawn to measure it. Then they took it to an undisclosed wildlife facility, where they planned to have a veterinarian examine it to determine whether it could be saved from its stab wounds.

Two other children reportedly were in the home, but their relationship to Darnell or the girl’s mother, Jaren Ashley Hare, 23, was not known. The other children did not share a room with Shaiunna.

Danelle Geoghegan, who pulled up to the home in a car hours after the attack and said she has a daughter with Darnell, described him as a “great dad."

“He’s devastated about this,” she said.

Geoghegan said Shaiunna played with the python all the time and the snake had never been aggressive toward her in the past.

Darnell reportedly also owns a boa constrictor that was in a different container. The reptiles were considered family pets.

FWC spokeswoman Joy Hill said the Burmese python is classified as “a reptile of concern,” and it is illegal to keep one without a permit.

She said Darnell does not have the permit required to own captive wildlife, which is a second-degree misdemeanor, and he may face criminal charges.

Following the attack Wednesday, investigators removed a number of items of evidence from the home, including two knives, the blood-stained crib and the glass aquarium where Darnell said he kept the snake.

Beyond having a permit, owners of Burmese pythons are required to follow strict state regulations governing their handling and captivity.

According to the 2008 edition of “Florida Captive Wildlife Regulations,” a python must be kept in a cage or glass case made of at least quarter-inch break-resistant glass. The enclosure must be secured by a lock.

Investigators say the aquarium taken from the child’s home was about six feet long and three feet deep and open at the top, but it wasn’t immediately clear to them whether the case had a lid.

Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118 or austin.miller@starbanner.com.

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