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Under hood, a hisser among hoses

The driver heard a squeak and thought: Fan belt. She popped the hood and thought: Must. Run. Now.

Published June 25, 2003

[Photo by Amy Ashbaugh]
Susan Perry of Tampa opened the hood of her Camaro Z28 and found a boa constrictor.

TAMPA - Susan Perry didn't hear a hiss under her car's hood.

But she did hear a squeak.

She had just installed a new belt on her Camaro Z28 convertible and thought that must be the problem. So Monday afternoon, she drove to Discount Auto Parts Inc. on Bearss Avenue, not far from her home, to pick up a can of belt lubricant.

When she popped the hood to spray down the belt, her heart stopped.

There, coiled up on her engine, was a 5-foot-long boa constrictor.

"I was screaming and running," said Perry, who works at Walgreens. "His head was as big as my hand."

Authorities have no idea how the snake ended up in Perry's car. Dozens of snakes were stolen from a Plant City pet shop over the weekend, but police aren't sure if this is one of them.

"This was a big, big boa," said Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy John Clark. "This is not a black snake that just crawled up there. This is somebody's pet who's taken good care of it."

When she saw the snake, Perry dropped everything and bolted back into the store, screaming, "Oh my God!"

"I honestly thought somebody was having a heart attack when she came in," said Amy Ashbaugh, a sales associate with Discount Auto Parts. "She was freaking out so bad."

Ashbaugh - the only one brave enough to touch the snake - always carries a digital camera, in case of unusual situations just like this.

"I've seen some weird stuff, but not like that," she said. "That was one of those stories that's like, nobody's going to believe me when I tell them. So I had to take photos of it."

Like all great stories, this one ballooned in the hours afterward.

Clark, shortly after the incident: "She opened the hood up, and there's a 6-foot boa constrictor sitting on top of her engine."

Ashbaugh, a little later: "It was actually closer to 7 feet."

Perry, the next morning: "It had to be at least 8 feet. It was huge."

Actually, said Animal Services spokesman Tom Green, the snake is about 5 feet long, with mottled brown, yellow and tan scales.

The snake was unhurt, Green said, and was not in any immediate danger. He's not surprised it ended up in someone's car.

"Snakes, for whatever reason, have strange places that they like to hide," he said. "They get out of people's houses as pets, and they are as inquisitive as any other animals."

Perry's skin crawled with the thought of what could have happened had the snake gone undetected.

"I could have had the top down, and the silly thing could have come back out and went inside the car," she said with a shudder.

"What if we'd been going down the interstate and that thing would have gotten wrapped up in the fan and cut into chunks? I would have never gotten the smell out."

Perry has no idea how the snake got in her car. Police told her it might have escaped from whoever stole nearly $30,000 worth of snakes Saturday night from D&H Pet Farms Inc. in Plant City. About 100 of the critters were stolen from owners Butch and Susin Tippie, including 10 boa constrictors.

The Tippies met with detectives Tuesday to discuss the case and examine the snake found in Perry's car. But according to Green, Susin Tippie couldn't identify the snake as one of hers during a visit to animal services.

Perry doesn't live in Plant City, but she spends a lot of time in east Hillsborough County. Her mother lives in Seffner, and Perry attends Seffner First United Methodist Church.

"I don't know how long I've carried that snake around with me," Perry said. "This car doesn't get driven a lot."

Green said he thinks the snake is a neighborhood pet, and that the owner may soon come forward.

"We'll find this guy a home," he said. "We'll offer it to some rescue group or some classroom."

Tuesday morning, Perry drove her second car, an old yellow station wagon, to work.

"I checked it out from head to toe," she said. "I'm afraid there's going to be another one."

[Last modified June 25, 2003, 15:54:59]

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