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Former Tennessee sheriff recalls ‘Cocaine Bear’ case

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The story of a black bear finding cocaine dropped from the sky by a smuggler has ties to Knoxville dating back to 1985, and a former sheriff remembers the story, which has inspired a movie called “Cocaine Bear.”

The newly released trailer paints the horror comedy film to be much different from real-life events. However, former Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones was on the case back in 1985 and said it is as unusual as it sounds.

“It was almost like a movie,” Jones laughed. “You wouldn’t believe it; it seemed too good to be true.”

He said he had only been with the force for a few years when the Metro Narcotics Unit got an unusual call.

“The way the call came in was an elderly gentleman had called the dispatch and said that there was somebody in his yard and he didn’t look like he was moving, and they needed to send the police out there to see what was going on,” Jones said.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, former Kentucky narcotics investigator-turned-smuggler Andrew Thornton fell to his death carrying too heavy of a load of cocaine while parachuting.

The story startled the Knoxville community back then. An unidentified bystander from a 1985 interview said, “I saw this parachute and a gentleman laying on the ground, and Mr. Myers asked me what it was.”

Fred Myers was the homeowner in whose yard the parachutist landed, according to old WATE interviews. Cocaine was found alongside Thornton’s body, according to the GBI.

Several weeks after Thornton was found, a black bear weighing over 150 pounds was discovered dead from apparently ingesting the drug in the mountains of Fannin County, Georgia. Next to the bear were 40 packages of cocaine ripped open and scattered over a hillside.

“They put two and two together, and then we started tracking where the bags of cocaine were thrown out, and it was a multi-agency case. FBI, TBI, everyone got involved with it,” Jones said. “In 1985, that was a huge amount of cocaine. I mean when you talked about 300 pounds of cocaine in 1985, that’s a lot of cocaine.”

Officials believe the bear ate several million dollars worth of cocaine.

Although the new movie “Cocaine Bear” doesn’t necessarily follow the case, Jones said he’s intrigued by the true story-inspired horror comedy.

“I’ll watch it,” Jones said, laughing.

The movie “Cocaine Bear,” directed by American actress and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks, is scheduled to hit theaters on Feb. 24, 2023.

Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington claims to have acquired the taxidermy bear after several different owners, including country music legend Waylon Jennings.

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