Colorado man was killed by venom from his pet Gila monster, autopsy finds

Colorado Man Fatally Poisoned by His Own Pet Gila Monster, Autopsy Reveals

In Golden, Colorado, a tragic incident occurred involving a man and his pet Gila monster. The man, identified as Christopher Ward, lost his life due to complications from the venom of the desert lizard. An autopsy report, which The Associated Press accessed, confirmed this unfortunate outcome.

The autopsy revealed that Ward’s death was not only caused by the venom but also exacerbated by pre-existing heart and liver issues. Ward, 34, faced this fatal incident after one of his two Gila monsters bit him on February 12. His passing, which happened less than four days after the bite, marks the first death attributed to a Gila monster in the United States in nearly a century.

The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office conducted the autopsy on February 18. It detailed that Ward experienced a bite that lasted four minutes. Following the bite, he went in and out of consciousness for roughly two hours before he sought medical help. At the hospital, he encountered multiple seizures and acute respiratory failure.

The day after the incident, Ward’s girlfriend surrendered the Gila monster named Winston, along with another named Potato, to animal control officers in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver. She recounted to the police how she found Winston attached to Ward’s hand after hearing unusual sounds. Ward began showing severe symptoms immediately, including vomiting and eventually losing consciousness and the ability to breathe.

She also shared that they acquired Winston at a reptile exhibition in Denver in October and Potato from a breeder in Arizona in November. Upon learning that owning Gila monsters was illegal in Lakewood, she expressed her desire to remove them from her home as quickly as possible.

The lizards were then transferred to Reptile Gardens in South Dakota by officers in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Additionally, twenty-six spiders of various species were removed from the home to a local animal shelter.

Gila monsters are venomous reptiles native to the southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico. While their bites are known to cause severe pain and can lead to unconsciousness, they are typically not fatal. These reptiles are admired for their vibrant color patterns and generally docile nature. They are legal to own in most states, available through breeders and reptile shows.

In Colorado, however, owning a Gila monster requires a special permit, which is usually only granted to zoological facilities. According to Kara Van Hoose, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Ward did not have the necessary permit for his lizards. It appears that Winston might have been acquired at a reptile show, a venue where state agents occasionally check for the sale of illegal animals.

Before this incident, the last recorded death from a Gila monster bite occurred around 1930. Dale DeNardo, a professor at Arizona State University and a Gila monster enthusiast, noted that the individual might have suffered from cirrhosis of the liver.