'Smiling snake' startles driver

6:44 AM, Aug 30, 2012   |    comments
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(WBIR) - It was the story that had East Tennesseans talking and, in some cases, gasping in fear -- the snake that slithered up through a car air vent along Interstate 40.

"I had just got on the interstate, headed home, when the snake popped out," said Jim Tipton, who was headed home from work Tuesday evening when it happened. "My left hand was on the wheel, so (the snake was) probably about eight inches or so from my left hand."

Tipton said he somehow managed to not panic when he saw the tiny snake pop its head out the vent. He believes it may have crawled into the car at his house, where he recently hired workers to cut down some trees.

"I calmly and slowly turned on the turn signal, pulled off the road, set the brake, turned on the hazards, looked in the mirror to make sure there was nothing coming in the lane beside me and then bolted from the car as quickly as I could," he said.

Tipton said he then called the non-emergency line for the Tennessee Highway Patrol and asked for help with the situation. In the meantime, he snapped a picture of the snake on his phone.

But, by the time help arrived, the snake had crawled back down into the car and didn't reappear.

"We tried turning on the heat, we tried turning on the air-conditioning, we tried banging on the dashboard, we tried pulling out one or two of the vent covers, but no luck," he said.

Finally, the group had to give up, but Tipton wasn't about to get back behind the wheel.

"No, no, no, not an option," he said. "I was getting the snake out or getting the car towed, one or the other, but as long as it was somewhere unknown in the car, I was not planning to drive."

And so, he had his car towed to West Side Honda, where mechanics spent hours taking apart the dash on Wednesday.

In the end, the workers found a tiny, baby snake, between 8 and 10 inches, long tucked deep inside the heating and air system. At some point, the snake had been crushed in the vents, however.

Now, Tipton can breathe a little easier behind the wheel of his car, with the hope he'll never have a repeat experience.

"You have to do what you have to do, and since I don't live next to my office, I have to get back in a car and drive, so, I think the odds are greatly against it happening again. I would hope so anyway," he said.


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