OXFORD, Ind. – A town council in Indiana is considering creating an ordinance that has specific restrictions for constricting snakes like the 8-foot reticulated python found wrapped around the neck of a women last week in a house specially designed to hold 140 snakes.
In the Oxford Town Council’s first meeting since Laura Hurst, a 36-year-old mother of two from Battle Ground, was found dead in a North Dan Patch Drive home owned by Benton County Sheriff and snake breeder Don Munson, town leaders were pressed by residents: Should owning that many snakes be legal in the town of 1,130?
“I think it’s almost unanimous in town that people want an ordinance against restrictive snakes,” Town Council President Randy Jones said Monday night, during a regularly scheduled town council meeting in Oxford, 25 miles northwest of Lafayette.
Justin Brummett, a town council member, wasn’t ready to do anything immediately.
Autopsy: Python strangles woman in Indiana home with 140 snakes owned by sheriff
“I think before we make any rash decisions and go excluding anything, we have to gather all the information that we can … because I’m not going to build the gallows and hang someone publicly without informing myself first,” Brummett said in reference to Munson, who owns the house where Hurst was found dead.
“And I understand that we’re going to talk about this,” Brummett said, “but I’m not going to be the judge, jury and executioner.”
Munson was not at Monday’s meeting. Indiana State Police have said they continue to investigate the Oct. 30 case. A preliminary autopsy released Friday by Benton County Coroner Matt Rosenbarger revealed that Hurst died of asphyxiation, after an 8-foot reticulated python was found around her neck.
Hurst, who lived more than 20 miles from Oxford, owned as many as 20 snakes in the house in the 600 block of North Dan Patch Drive. Her obituary, published Friday evening at jconline.com, pays tribute to her under her maiden name, Laura Perdue.
Read her obituary
ISP officials said the snake found around Hurst’s neck was the only one out of its enclosure when she was found by Munson just before 9 p.m. Oct. 30.
Munson lives next door to the snake house, according to Benton County property records.
Last week, Munson declined to detail why the snakes were kept in the house, a blue ranch home with no obvious signs outside that snakes are held inside. But in 2001, based on a visit he made with snakes to Oxford Elementary School, Munson said he had more than 50 snakes in his garage, at that time.
Calls to Munson through the Benton County Sheriff’s Department were not immediately returned Tuesday.
When it happened: Python found wrapped around dead woman’s neck in house of snakes owned by Benton Co. sheriff, police say
Currently, Oxford has an ordinance that limits the number of cats or dogs to two. The ordinance specifically prohibits pit bulls. But the ordinance also prohibits possession of vicious animals, defined as “any dog or any other animal,” domesticated or wild, that “has previously displayed belligerent behavior toward any person in a manner such as to threaten bodily injury to a person, whether that animal or bird was bred, used or trained for fighting or attack,” according to Christie Hale, Oxford’s clerk-treasurer.
Indiana law has regulations covering venomous snakes. Indiana State Police officials said there were no venomous snakes in Munson’s snake house. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not currently regulate pythons because they are not native to Indiana.
Judson Barce, Oxford’s attorney, said the two main issues he saw were through zoning and safety.
Should Munson have operated a business renting space for snakes or selling the animals, Barce said it would “be an issue for the Benton County Planning Commission,” meaning any zoning enforcement would come from the planning commission, which also would also change any regulation coming with land use.
Typically, Barce said zoning covenants deal with exterior issues, like paint color or items in a front yard. He had never heard of a covenant that dealt with the use that goes inside a house within a subdivision, besides restrictions against operating businesses.
A clerk answering the phone Tuesday morning for the Benton County Building Inspector’s office, which oversees enforcement of ordinances including those pertaining to buildings and zoning, directed questions to the Indiana State Police. Last week, police reported they had no jurisdiction in the investigation to look into the legality of the snakes kept in the house.
The town council questioned if Munson was operating a business at the home holding snakes, but Barce said those questions were likely part of the police investigation.
From the safety aspect of the town council’s concerns, Barce said town council members have the power to regulate what happens within the town and are within their power to pass an ordinance against snakes, if they chose to do so.
Town council members said they were in favor of potentially having owners register their snakes with the town so it is aware of the snakes’ existence, for safety reasons and in case of any emergency.
Jones said he hopes to see an ordinance about constricting snakes by November.
“All of the board members have studied and are looking at ordinances around Indiana specifically, but we’re going to go with our attorney’s lead and at some point will be incorporating an ordinance that (is) advising that those types of constricting snakes will not be allowed,” Jones said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
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