Tennessee Man Whose Remains Were Found Being Eaten by Bear Died of Meth Overdose, Not Attack, Autopsy Finds

black bear
A black bear scavenges for food at Sequoia National Park, California, on October 10, 2009. An autopsy has revealed a human victim in the Great Smoky Mountains died of a drug overdose, not an attack. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

A Tennessee man whose body was found being eaten by a bear last September in the Great Smoky Mountains died after using meth, not from an attack.

National park officials said yesterday that an autopsy showed William Lee Hill, Jr., 30, of Louisville, passed away from "accidental methamphetamine intoxication."

A report into the man's death was recently compiled by the Knox County Regional Forensic Center. It noted: "An autopsy revealed extensive post mortem animal predation, but no findings of antemortem/perimortem trauma (i.e. Mr. Hill was not attacked by a bear)."

Hill's remains were found off-trail in the park on Sunday, September 9, 2018, close to the Rich Mountain Road. At the time, a black bear had been seen feeding on the body.

While the cause of death remained undetermined until this week, park bosses decided within 48 hours to euthanize the animal in order to maintain public safety.

Hill's remains showed "evidence of wildlife scavenging" and the bear was spotted in the area displaying "aggressive behaviors," local media outlet WLOS reported at the time.

Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said last September: "This is one of the hardest decisions a wildlife manager has to make and is one that we did not take lightly.

"Over 2 million visitors come to the Cades Cove area annually and there are several residential areas very close to where we found Mr. Hill's body. We could not take the risk of allowing this bear to approach or show aggression towards other people."

It was later determined that Hill had become separated from another man, Joshua David Morgan, aged 31. They had reportedly visited the national park to search for ginseng—a plant which has "long been used for medicine," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Knoxville News Sentinel, a local newspaper, reported yesterday that the black bear witnessed eating the remains was hunted down and fatally shot on September 16 last year.

Hill's autopsy, the newspaper added, concluded that the victim had a history of using drugs and his body was located close to drug paraphernalia. Morgan, his companion at the national park, later died at Blount Memorial Hospital on October 1 but the cause of death remained unclear, according to the the Knoxville News Sentinel. The pair were described as best friends.

The Great Smoky Mountains media release, sent out yesterday, said: "The park is home to an estimated 1,500 bears. Very few bears exhibit aggressive behavior toward humans.

"Wildlife biologists and park rangers work hard to prevent bears from becoming food-conditioned or habituated to high-use areas.

"Out of an abundance of caution for the park's 11 million park visitors, staff implement aversive-conditioning techniques and, on rare occasions, euthanize individual bears that pose a threat to visitor safety." The national park is situated on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.