SANTA ANA, Calif. - A Southern California teacher who had 400 snakes in his home, many of them dead or dying, pleaded guilty Thursday to failing to provide proper care for the creatures.
William Buchman, 53, entered the misdemeanor plea in Orange County and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. He also can't have a pet for five years and is paying $17,000 in restitution for animal care.
He originally was charged with felony animal abuse, which carried a potential three-year prison term.
Buchman, who is on leave from his teaching job at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach, cared for his ailing mother but lived alone following her death several years ago.
"Mr. Buchman suffered a severe depression after the long terminal illness and death of his mother," his attorney, Paul Meyer, said in a statement. "The depression paralyzed him and he tragically neglected the reptiles which had been a family hobby."
Buchman was arrested in January, after reports of a vile smell at his Santa Ana home led to the discovery of the pythons, including 280 that were dead or dying.
The front four rooms of the home were packed floor to ceiling with snake bins. Some of the dead snakes were little more than skeletons. Others, only recently dead, were covered with flies and maggots. There also was an infestation of rats and mice, which had been kept as snake food.
"House of Horrors: That's the best way to describe it," Sondra Berg, supervisor for the Santa Ana Police Department's Animal Services Division, said after Buchman's arrest.
"It got so bad as to where my wife would throw up" from the smell, next-door neighbor Forest Long Sr. said. "She'd get out of the car and run into the house."
Animal control authorities tried to work with Buchman for several months after neighbors reported the smell but weren't allowed inside the home until a search warrant was obtained.
Berg said Buchman told authorities he was involved in a type of snake breeding called "morphing," in which owners try to breed different color patterns in the reptiles.
His attorney said Buchman has cooperated by getting therapy, remodeling his home and donating all his reptile equipment to a rescue group.
The surviving snakes have all found new homes.