Man charged after shooting at bear in Gatlinburg

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Gatlinburg police say a man is facing charges after he shot at a bear he said was charging at him at a local motel.

53-year-old Gregory Sapp, of Hixson, Tenn, is facing charges of illegal discharge of a weapon and reckless endangerment. Gatlinburg police officers were dispatched to the Motel 6 on Ownby Street around 11:30 p.m. Thursday where Sapp told them he fired six shots at a bear that was charging at him.

Footage of the scene appears to show a small trail of blood where the bear was shot.

Sapp told WATE’s Kirstie Crawford he was standing outside his room on the second-floor smoking a cigarette when he saw the bear standing on top of a trash can less than five feet away.

He said the bear started heading towards him after his dog barked, and he was afraid the bear was about to attack him or his dog.

Sapp has a license to carry and said that he used his .45 caliber handgun to shoot the bear.

He said he fired about five or six times before the bear ran away.

Sapp said that he told police he had two 16-oz beers before the incident. He said officers administered a field sobriety test, but did not test his blood alcohol content.

Locals living near the motel said that a bear visited the area often, looking for food, but it was never aggressive.

One local, Kaitlyn Barker, said that the bear had even been close to her and her dog before, but the bear simply ran across the street in the opposite direction.

“It actually already walked with a limp. You know, to me it was harmless, but you know, to others, it’s a frightening thing. It’s a risk coming down and there’s a bear 20 feet in front of you, what are you going to do? It’s a sad predicament,” Barker said.

The bear fled the area and could not be located as of 6 p.m. Friday. The Gatlinburg Police Department and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency will continue their investigation into this matter.

TWRA officers said that if someone has a close encounter with a bear, the first thing they should do is look for an easy escape route, such as an easy place to take cover, a vehicle to retreat to, a stairwell to enter or a structure to go inside.

Once safe and away from the bear, they should call 911.

Officers said though that if a bear approaches you acting in an aggressive manner, and there is no escape route for you or the bear, “then acting in self-defense is understandable.”

This is a developing story and we’ll continue to update the details as they become available.

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