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Ohio man with over 100 snakes pleads not guilty to selling exotic animals

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio man whose home was stacked "floor to ceiling" with more than 100 snakes, including some venomous vipers, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a charge of illegally selling dangerous animals, a court administrator said.

Joseph McCollum, 46, and his 45-year old girlfriend Michelle Barrett, were arrested Friday in Struthers, Ohio, after he went to a local hospital, saying he had been bitten by a venomous rattlesnake.

Police found 97 non-venomous and a handful of venomous snakes housed in unmarked aquariums and plastic containers throughout the house, including in the room of McCollum's 12-year old son. Struthers is a suburb of Youngstown near the Pennsylvania and Ohio border.

McCollum and Barrett were charged with felony child endangerment. Barrett had a warrant for a previous endangerment charge. McCollum pleaded not guilty in Struthers municipal court on Tuesday to illegally selling and auctioning animals but did not enter a plea on the child endangerment charge, which will be heard on Friday, the court administrator said.

McCollum is the owner of the "Boa Store," and sold and shipped snakes throughout the county, according the Struthers Police Detective Jeff Lewis.

"We were shocked at the inventory of snakes he had. They were floor to ceiling and there were also a lot of rats - for feeding purposes," Lewis said.

McCollum was charged under a new Ohio state law prohibiting the ownership of exotic and dangerous animals without permits.

The Ohio law was passed in response to an incident two years ago during which an owner of exotic animals released 48 large cats, bears and lions and then committed suicide, setting off a panic that ended with police killing the animals.

In August, two boys in Canada, ages 4 and 6, were strangled by a 13-foot python after the serpent escaped from an exotic pet store and slithered into their room where they were sleeping.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune and Bob Burgdorfer)

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