February 05, 2009
DISASTER AND ACCIDENT
Brothers plead guilty to charges related to WCU bear incident
SYLVA, North Carolina (SmallTownPapers) -- Two Wilkesboro brothers pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges stemming from the October discovery of a dead black bear at Western Carolina University.
Marvin Caleb Williams, 20, and Matthew Colton Williams, 18, pleaded guilty to the charges during a Jan. 27 session of District Court. The two were also charged with transporting a wild animal without a permit, but that charge was dismissed.
Sentencing was continued until March 10.
The Williams brothers were students at WCU at the time of the incident but are no longer enrolled, according to university spokesman Bill Studenc.
The 90-pound bear was found near the catamount statue in the roundabout at WCU's main entrance around 7:45 a.m. on Oct. 20. A two-sided political sign for then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was attached to its head, and the incident's racial overtones attracted national media attention.
Many believed it to be the work of people opposed to Obama's candidacy until WCU officials released an Oct. 21 statement calling the incident a "stupid prank."
According to Studenc, some WCU students on a camping trip found the dead bear while searching for firewood late Saturday night (Oct. 18). After returning to campus on Sunday, they drove back to where they had seen the bear and loaded it into the back of their pickup truck, he said.
With the bear in the back of their truck, the students arrived Sunday night at a social gathering at The Summit, an off-campus residential complex, and struck up a conversation with others about what to do with the animal, Studenc said. One of the students suggested placing it at the base of the catamount statue at the main entrance; en route to campus, the students took random political signs to put over the bear's head in an effort to cover a head wound and prevent blood from spilling into the bed of the truck, Studenc said.
The students dumped the bear into the center of the roundabout at the entrance to campus at about 2:40 a.m. Monday and returned to their apartment, according to Studenc.
Though it was initially thought the bear had been shot, N.C. Wildlife Resources personnel indicated the bear was apparently struck and killed by a vehicle, Studenc said. The bear was initially said to have weighed 75 pounds, though court documents state it in fact weighed 90 pounds.
DOT Maintenance Supervisor Edwin Austin told The Herald in October that the dead bear was found along the side of N.C. 107 near the staffed recycling center south of Cashiers. Ground there was not suitable for burial, so DOT personnel transported the bear to East LaPorte but did not have a key for the equipment needed to bury the bear. According to Austin, the bear was placed inside the fence, and DOT personnel intended to bury it that Monday (Oct. 20). However, the bear's body was removed before that could be accomplished, he said.
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