A Columbia-area conservationist died after suffering a snake bite at a Clarendon County wildlife preserve over the weekend.
Wayne M. Grooms, a 71-year-old West Columbia resident, was a Lexington County Soil and Water Conservation district commissioner who was locally well regarded for his knowledge of the natural world.
A rattlesnake bit Grooms late Sunday afternoon while he was visiting Santee National Wildlife Refuge, according to the Clarendon County Coroner’s Office. Grooms died within 15 minutes of the snake bite, but a cause of death has not been determined.
Grooms had a medical condition and an autopsy is to be performed Tuesday at the Medical University of South Carolina, Coroner Hayes Samuels said, declining to disclose the condition.
If it is determined that Grooms died from a snakebite, it would be highly unusual. Only about a half-dozen people are killed nationally each year after being struck by venomous snakes. Samuels said his office rarely has had a call like the one it took Sunday afternoon.
Samuels said the rattler struck Grooms as he was making his way to Lake Marion with a friend in the Cuddo section of the wildlife preserve. After the snake struck Grooms on the lower left leg, the friend tried to help him to the car, but he collapsed and died about 3:55 p.m., Samuels said.
The area of the wildlife refuge where the incident occurred is known as Alligator Alley. It is about seven miles south of Summerton and four miles north of Santee. The Santee National Wildlife Refuge is a 13,000-acre federal preserve established in 1941.The property is southeast of Columbia below Interstate 95.
Grooms, who was born in Australia, was a Vietnam veteran and former employee with Commercial Mass Metals, according to the Lexington County Soil and Water Conservation District and Grooms’ Facebook page. He studied at the University of South Carolina. Two years ago, he was elected to the conservation district board after volunteering with the organization for several years, according to the district.
“I was devastated; this was just so unexpected,’’ said Tina Blum, administrative assistant with the Soil and Water Conservation District. “Wayne was a good guy all around.’’
Kathy Hensley, a soil and water conservation commissioner with Grooms, said he volunteered at the Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve in Lexington County and was a self-taught naturalist. Every year, he volunteered to speak at schools on Arbor Day and planted trees with the children, she said. Grooms leaves behind a wife and son, she said.
Grooms’ Facebook page was filled Monday with tributes of his life.
“Wayne was a long-time friend of mine and he just filled a void on the conservation district board,’’ Hensley said. “His knowledge about botany and the natural world was just phenomenal.’’
Snake bite response
Most snakes are not venomous and relatively few people die from snake bites. For anyone who is bitten by a venomous snake, the Mayo Clinic and Web MD recommend the following:
-- Move beyond the snake’s striking distance
-- Clean the wound, but do not flush with water.
-- Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing
-- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, which can speed up the rate at which the body absorbs venom
-- Seek medical attention as soon as possible
-- Take note of the type of snake so that a description can be provided to medical staff