Struthers snake owners arraigned on charges
By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Two Fifth Street residents were arraigned Tuesday in Struthers Municipal Court on charges relating to the seizure of more than 100 snakes and lizards from their home, and authorities returned to the two-story duplex to remove additional evidence.
Bond was set at $6,000, with a 10 percent cash surety, for Joseph L. McCollum, 46, and Michele M. Barrett, 45. They are charged with having dangerous animals for sale or auction, which is a first- degree misdemeanor; and for child endangering, a fourth-degree felony.
The two purportedly own and operate The Boa Store, an Internet business that specializes in the sale of “captive bred and captive born” boa constrictors, according to the website.
But McCollum and Barrett could face other charges, too, after rats and mice — most caged but some loose, and likely intended as food for some of the snakes — were taken from the residence at 438 Fifth St., where Barrett’s 12-year-old son also lived, said Detective Jeff Lewis of the Struthers Police Department.
Barrett’s son remains in the custody of a relative, and Mahoning County Children Services has been contacted.
“There were some real health hazards there,” said Lewis, who noted that authorities found rodents in the freezer and also had to set traps to capture others. “The place is pretty much a nuisance, and no one should be occupying the place in the condition it is in. The smell alone is noxious.”
Among those health hazards were “rat and snake droppings everywhere,” as well as improperly cleaned cages, which pose a “real risk of salmonella, especially for children,” Lewis said.
Health department officials were called in to determine what to do with the residence, and Lewis indicated that the police department strongly recommends condemning the house.
He added that police also found drug paraphernalia — including glass crack and marijuana pipes, tinfoil with drug residue on it and hypodermic needles — at the residence during their follow-up visit Tuesday afternoon.
McCollum, who is self- employed as a contractor, and Barrett, who is employed, were arrested Friday after police discovered the reptiles — some of them poisonous — in almost every room of the residence while conducting a welfare check on McCollum.
He had visited St. Elizabeth Health Center last week with a rattlesnake bite but left before he could be treated. Hospital staff told police why McCollum had been there, however.
Both McCollum and Barrett, who previously faced child-endangering charges out of Girard, requested court-appointed lawyers.
A court trial for the charge of sale or auction of dangerous animals, along with a preliminary hearing for the child-endangering charge, is set for 9:30 a.m. Friday in Struthers Municipal Court. The two have pleaded not guilty to the dangerous- animals charge.