Bacas, a rowing coach at Yorktown High School in Arlington, told authorities he felt a sharp pain on his hand Monday when he reached into his luggage. He then saw the nearly foot-long snake and slammed the suitcase shut.
Fire and rescue workers took the suitcase outside, opened it and blasted the snake, identified as a juvenile canebrake rattler, with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. The chemical essentially froze the animal to death.
"The guy who responded had seen (the fire extinguisher technique) done on TV," Arlington County Fire Chief Ben Barksdale said.
Bacas' son, Peter, said the luggage had been left open on a porch during the trip. Barksdale said he had no information that the snake was deliberately put into the luggage.
Bob Myers, director of the American International Rattlesnake Museum in New Mexico, said his first thought was that it was a prank, but it's conceivable that a snake would crawl into luggage seeking warmth or shelter.
The venom from a canebrake rattlesnake can be particularly harmful, but a young snake is not usually large enough to deliver enough to be lethal, Myers said. Adult canebrakes can grow to 6 feet.
"There's an old wives' tale that says a baby rattlesnake bite is worse than an adult bite, but that's just not true," Myers said.
Three or four people die each year from rattlesnake bites in the United States, out of perhaps 8,000 bites a year, Myers said.