Snake pit stop for car turns up 3 1/2 -foot dead python in Plymouth engine

December 03, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Instead of a tiger in her tank, Barbara Pridgen had a snake in her engine.

A big, fat python.

"I just panicked. I screamed," the 43-year-old Cedonia resident said yesterday, recalling the moment she learned the source of the dreadful odor in her 1996 silver Plymouth Breeze. "I didn't want to touch that car again."

Now her car is back to normal, cleansed of the reptile found dead in the heating-and-air-conditioning unit. Pridgen is back in the driver's seat.

"I'm just counting my blessings [the snake] didn't come out," said Pridgen, a data-entry operator who lives in Gardenvillage apartments off Sinclair Lane. "I just keep looking down when I'm driving."

The wildlife saga started last week when Pridgen noticed a "terrible smell" in her car. In desperation, she took the car to the service department at Doug Griffith Chrysler-Plymouth in Carney, where she had purchased it.

George Clifford, the department's automotive service adviser, worked with mechanic Jim Roberts to find the cause of the foul odor. Eventually, they had to take the dashboard apart.

"It was a lot of work," Clifford said of the job that cost Pridgen and her insurance company almost $600.

When the men found the coiled, chubby culprit, they weren't sure it was dead.

"It could have been dormant," Clifford said yesterday.

Added Roberts, who has worked at Doug Griffith for three years, "It scared me a bit."

But after gingerly removing the 3 1/2 -foot-long, 3-inch-thick black-and-brown python, it became obvious the snake's slithering days were over.

"The stink of it all told me it was dead," Clifford said. "It would make you throw up in a heartbeat."

He said the incident was a first in his 18-year career. "I've seen dead rats. But never a big, ol' snake."

Now, the snake faces an unceremonious burial in a Dumpster, according to instructions from county animal control officials.

No one knows how the snake got into the car.

"It could have snuck in through the air vents," Clifford said. "Cars are nice and warm under the hood."

Amy Bevans, manager of Sea Breeze Pet Center in Lutherville, said pythons must be kept warm to survive. Typically, they like temperatures in the 80s.

Sea Breeze sells three or four pythons a month as pets, said Bevans, adding that someone probably released the snake that hid in the car. "It gets expensive to feed them," she said.

When they're young, the snakes enjoy mice, costing about $1.25 a week, Bevans said. But soon they develop an appetite for rats, available for $2.99 to $5.99 each at the store, and rabbits for $20 a piece. She knows of a local python that is so large it eats goats.

If fed properly, pythons -- aggressive, nonpoisonous snakes that can put the squeeze on their owners -- grow to 20-plus feet.

"People just love snakes," Bevans said. "And when they want a snake, they want one that gets big."

Not Clifford, though: "I'd rather kill them than look at them."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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