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'Twiggy' was a pet

  • CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Aerielle Hoffman, 4, with her father, Mike Hoffman.
    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Aerielle Hoffman, 4, with her father, Mike Hoffman.
Published August 31. 2012 05:02PM

Lehighton Police Chief Neal Ebbert arrived at a North Second Street house Wednesday afternoon to find a man cutting a three-foot long snake away from a small girl's chest.

Police had been called to the house on a report of a snake wrapped around a child's neck, Lehighton Officer Derek Solt said early Friday.

The child was crying, and there was blood on her neck, chest and face," he said. "There was possibly a tooth embedded in her chest."

Ebbert took the little girl, 4-year-old Aerielle Hoffman, to Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital, several blocks away, where she was treated and released.

The snake, a ball python named Twiggy, was one of six snakes owned by Mike Hoffman and his fiancee Brandi Lehrian. The couple live with Aerielle and her older brother at 225 N. Second St.

Hoffman and Lehrian may face charges, Solt said. He said Ebbert would be speaking with Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias. The couple also may face fines and/or jail time for violating a borough ordinance barring possession of exotic animals, including constricting snakes.

On Thursday morning, Mike Hoffman stood on his front porch, talking with a reporter while intercepting escaping kittens and keeping a close eye on his daughter, who wasn't saying much about the snake bite.

The incident happened at about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, as Hoffman and Aerielle were standing about two houses down from a school bus stop.

"I knew people were afraid of snakes, and I don't like to tease people with them or anything like that," he said.

Aerielle's mother, Lehrian, walked up to the bus stop to get Aerielle's brother.

Aerielle wanted to show off the 3-year-old snake. A couple of children had walked from the bus stop to where they stood, and Aerielle was showing them the snake, trying to hold its head so the other children could see it.

"We were just down there, playing with the snake," Hoffman said. "I kept telling her, stop messing with his head. As soon as I went to grab the snake you can when they're getting a little antsy that's when he grabbed her."

Hoffman said he cut the snake off because Aerielle was holding it tightly around its head.

"I had the snake off as the cops were pulling up," he said.

Hoffman, a chef by trade and currently a stay-at-home father, said he carries a knife out of habit.

Aerielle, he said, "was mad that I did it. She was mad that I had to kill the snake."

He said he's had the snake for about a year.

"We have him out of the aquarium most of the time," Hoffman said. "He was skinny, that's why we called him Twiggy. He ate like a champ, but he just never gained a lot of weight."

The family also has three other ball pythons and two corn snakes, along with a bulldog named Bruno and three young cats, Tiko, Baby and Tiger. Aerielle showed a visitor the cats, bringing each to the front door.

"He was a family pet. What bugs me is that people made a big deal because it's a snake. How many people out there have pets at home like hamsters and gerbils and rabbits that bite their kids? That doesn't make the paper," he said.

Hoffman wanted to make it clear that the snake was not wrapped around his daughter's neck.

"He was never wrapped around her neck," he said. "I don't know where that came from."

Hoffman said he's just "mad that everyone made a big deal out of it. I mean, yeah, it's a big deal that my daughter got bit. But again, if it would have been anything else, nobody would have been scared for the children. It was a one-time, freak thing that happened. She's held the snakes hundreds of times and never gotten bit. "

Hoffman said Aerielle was playing with the snakes soon after arriving home from Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital, where she was taken for treatment of her snake bite.

"That was the first thing she did," he said.

Lehighton Borough Council on Dec. 17, 2007, adopted an ordinance that prohibits keeping exotic pets, such as reptiles, raccoons or porcupines, in homes or businesses within borough limits.

The borough includes "all venomous and constricting snakes. Violators could be fined from $50 to $500, and jailed for up to 90 days.

Ball pythons are among a family of African snakes known as constrictors, and are not venomous. Ball pythons are described by reputable sources as docile and shy, and not likely to bite.

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