Lake Tahoe bear shooting: Tentative trial date set
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The man alleged to have illegally shot a juvenile bear in a South Lake Tahoe neighborhood in July of 2015 was in El Dorado County Court again Friday, Jan. 8.
Gilbert Wetenkamp, 75, is charged with a misdemeanor violation of California’s Fish & Wildlife code for unlawful taking of a bear.
A spokesman from the district attorney’s office said that if found guilty, Wetenkamp could face a minimum $800 fine. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a violation could include a jail term of up to 6 months.
Prior to the Jan. 8 court date, Wetenkamp’s public defender had twice been granted a continuance in order to proceed with information gathering for the case. A court official credited the PD office’s heavy case load as among the reasons for the continuance.
El Dorado County Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury set Friday, March 11, for a readiness and settlement conference, at which time Wetenkamp may accept a settlement agreement or proceed to trial. A tentative trial date has been set for Tuesday, March 29.
Wetenkamp allegedly shot the bear from his garage after it had repeatedly broken into his home. The wildlife department had previously offered Wetenkamp a depredation permit to legally take the bear, which Wetenkamp declined.
When asked about the case, district attorney spokesman Dave Stevenson said, “Criminal complaints are only filed when it is believed a burden beyond a reasonable doubt can be presented to the jury.”
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care volunteer Toogee Sielsch, who was called on by the organization to respond to the initial report of the incident, said the bear had been shot in the back and was found near a tree some distance from Wetenkamp’s residence.
“All the buck shot ran from its hind leg to lower back,” Sielsch said.
Reading from Fish and Wildlife’s report, Stevenson said that Wetenkamp told investigators he wasn’t sure if he’d hit the bear and thought he may have simply scared it off.
Sielsch, who is also a member of the nonprofit BEAR League, said he hopes that the court orders Wetenkamp to buy a bear proof garbage container and better bear proof his house rather than face serious legal repercussions.
“I personally would like to see him be required to put a bear box on his property,” he said. “I think that would serve our community much better (than a fine or jail time).”