KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A man whose body was found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year died of a meth overdose before being partially eaten by a bear, an autopsy found.
The body of William Lee Hill Jr., 30, of Louisville, Tenn., was discovered in a wooded area off Rich Mountain Road in Townsend on Sept. 11 — four days after he became separated from a friend while the pair were searching for ginseng in the park.
After searchers found an adult black bear scavenging the body, the animal stayed in the area and exhibited aggressive behavior for hours.
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Biologists trapped the bear long enough to apply a GPS tracking collar and recover human DNA from the animal. Officials then released the bear, reviewed the evidence and determined the bear should be euthanized.
“While the cause of Mr. Hill’s death is unknown at this time, after gathering initial evidence, consulting with other wildlife professionals and careful consideration, we made the difficult decision to euthanize this bear out of concern for the safety of park visitors and local residents,” Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a Sept. 12 news release.
Media outlets cited the release to report the bear had been euthanized, which prompted the park to clarify two days later that the animal had not yet been slain. Recapturing the bear, officials said, proved surprisingly difficult.
The bear evaded death until Sept. 16, when park rangers fatally shot the animal.
The autopsy of Hill’s body, performed at the Knox County Regional Forensic Center, revealed “extensive postmortem animal predation,” but found no evidence he was attacked by the bear while he was alive, the autopsy report says.
According to the report, Hill initially had to be identified through his personal belongings and tattoos, which included a skull and crossbones with the inscription “AC/DC,” and a Confederate battle flag bearing the words, “IT’S A REDNEK THING!”
Hill had a history of drug use, and his body was found near syringes and other drug paraphernalia, the report states. The autopsy concluded he died of an accidental meth overdose.
The man who went with Hill to search for ginseng, 31-year-old Joshua David Morgan, of Maryville, died in October. The two were best friends, according to Morgan’s obituary.
Ginseng, a herb used in energy drinks and for various other purposes, is often harvested and sold for cash. It is illegal to remove plants from national parks
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