Tentative trial date set for South Lake Tahoe illegal bear shooting case
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 Court again Friday, Jan. 8.
Gilbert Wetenkamp, 75, is charged with a misdemeanor violation of California’s Fish and Game 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. The California Fish and Game Code also states that violation could include a jail term of up to six months.
Prior to Friday’s 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 public defender office’s heavy caseload among the reasons for the continuance.
On Friday, 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.
According to sources with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wetenkamp is alleged to have 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.
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 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.
Sielsch, who is also a member of the Tahoe 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).”
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