Checkout Time for Smelly, Slithery Guests

Fairfax City police discovered 17 exotic snakes, 12 of them venomous, in a motel room after management notified them about a foul odor.
Fairfax City police discovered 17 exotic snakes, 12 of them venomous, in a motel room after management notified them about a foul odor. (Fairfax City Police)
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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sure, the movie "Snakes on a Plane" was scary. But how about this sequel: "Snakes in a Cheap Motel Room"?

Fairfax City police said they found 17 exotic snakes, 12 of them venomous, inside Room 11 of the Hy-Way Motel near Fairfax Circle on Thursday night after the motel's management alerted them to a foul odor. The snakes took up residence at the Hy-Way on Sunday and were not detected by the housekeeping staff because they were concealed in luggage, police said.

Two of the smaller snakes, possibly future meals for their larger brethren, passed away during their vacation at the Hy-Way, police said, creating the telltale odor that led to their sudden eviction yesterday.

Police said the reptiles might belong to an Arlington County man who proudly kept as many as 100 exotic snakes in his home until county authorities recently moved against him.

The snakes did not endear him to the neighbors, who occasionally came across the random Mexican lancehead rattlesnake rambling about the 'hood. So in May, Arlington passed an ordinance banning venomous snakes and other poisonous reptiles.

Fairfax City Lt. Mike Artone said that a man paid for a week in advance at the Hy-Way and that the man "may be involved in some kind of similar case in Arlington County." He did not disclose the man's name because he had not been charged with a crime -- though it has long been illegal in Fairfax City to harbor venomous snakes -- and had not been located by the police.

Arlington officials said yesterday that Peter T. Nguyen, 39, of Quintana Street in North Arlington, had been given a deadline of July 1 to remove all venomous creatures from his home. Police Detective Crystal Nosal said she did not know whether animal control officers had visited Nguyen to be sure his home was venom-free.

Fairfax City police said late yesterday that an "unnamed Arlington man" called them, after being contacted by a reporter, and volunteered that, yes, the snakes of the Hy-Way Motel were indeed his.

Lt. Bert Peacher said the man planned to come to police headquarters today and pick up his summons, a misdemeanor, for harboring venomous snakes, which could subject him to a fine if convicted. The man's name would be released then.

Nguyen could not be reached for comment yesterday. He declined to speak with WRC-TV (Channel 4).

Peacher said the man explained that he was in the process of snake divestiture, had sent a number of his scaly friends to Florida but had one last batch in the area. The man said that he had placed the deadly reptiles with a friend but that the friend had to return them unexpectedly. This led the man to stash them at the Hy-Way, Peacher said, and he was unaware that they had been discovered and relocated.

Fairfax City police checked other area motels and hotels and did not find any legless guests.

Police said the snakes had been stored in vented plastic boxes, which were placed inside large vinyl bags throughout Room 11. Housekeepers who checked the room did not see anything disturbed and had no reason to open the bags, including some next to the mirrored headboard. The guest who rented the room apparently was not staying there.

But the foul odor caused the motel's proprietor to call police Thursday night, Artone said, and after discovering the slithery but seemingly contained menagerie, officers backed off until more-expert snake-handlers could be summoned.

An animal control officer and two snake experts visited the Hy-Way yesterday to catalogue the snakes and oversee their removal to an exotic-animal zoo in central Virginia, police said. The breeds included African puff adders, cottonmouths, rhinoceros vipers, albino cottonmouths, speckled rattlesnakes and a black-headed python, police said.

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