Tahoe man pleads no contest in bear shooting, sentencing scheduled
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The man alleged to have illegally shot a juvenile bear in a South Lake Tahoe neighborhood in July 2015 was in El Dorado County Superior Court again Friday, March 11.
Gilbert Wetenkamp, 75, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of violating California’s Fish and Game Code for unlawful taking of a bear. He is scheduled to be sentenced next Friday, March 18.
El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Dave Stevenson said Wetenkamp could face a minimum $800 fine. California Fish and Game Code also states the violation could include a jail term of up to six months.
Prior to Friday’s court date, Wetenkamp’s public defender had been granted numerous continuances in order to proceed with information gathering for the case. A court official credited the El Dorado County Public Defender Office’s heavy caseload among the reasons for the continuance.
According to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife report, Wetenkamp shot the bear from his garage after the bear had repeatedly broken into his home. The wildlife department previously offered Wetenkamp a depredation permit to legally take the bear, which he declined.
After a public records request by the Tribune, the Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that “a property owner” (Wetenkamp) admitted to shooting the bear during the department’s initial investigation.
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 in a recent Tribune interview.
Reading from the California Department of 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.
Details regarding any potential plea agreement between the district attorney’s office and Wetenkamp’s public defender Mark Ralphs could not be confirmed at press time.
Ralphs declined to comment on the plea decision Friday.
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