Elizabeth Banks Bringing ‘Cocaine Bear’ To Big Screen

Cocaine Bear

by COBY BENNETT

Actress and director Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Charlie’s Angels”) is now adapting one of Kentucky’s craziest true stories into a feature length film.

One would not expect to see the words “cocaine” and “bear” in the same sentence, much less paired together gracing the silver screen. But it only serves to enhance this whacky tale of black bears and narcotics.

In December 1985, a black bear in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in the mountains of North Georgia was found dead having ingested a large amount of 95 percent pure cocaine. The examiner who had performed the bear’s autopsy stated that “its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine.”

The bear was then stuffed and put on display at various locales before ending up a roadside attraction at Kentucky Fun Mall in 2015, where it received the new moniker “Pablo Escobear.”

These events are actually the period of a tale about Air Force officer-turned-corrupt narcotics officer Andrew Carter Thornton II. In Lexington, Ky., Thornton served as a police officer before he resigned in 1977 to become a lawyer. During his tenure as an officer, he got his drug-smuggling start, becoming the head of “The Company”, a drug-and-weapons smuggling ring based in Kentucky that allegedly included other corrupt officers.

In 1981, Thornton was arrested alongside 25 other men in California for the attempted theft of firearms from a naval base in Fresno, as well as attempting to smuggle 1,000 pounds of marijuana into the country. Thornton pleaded not guilty and fled to North Carolina, where he was arrested as a fugitive and pleaded no contest to the Fresno allegations. He spent six months in prison, was fined $500, placed on five years probation and had his law license suspended. But these inconveniences did not serve to dissuade Thornton from his drug-smuggling operations.

On Sept. 11, 1985, Thornton was transporting cocaine from Colombia by plane. On the journey, he experienced engine trouble and proceeded to dump the narcotics out of the plane, before jumping with a parachute carrying a green duffle bag containing 77 pounds worth of cocaine. His parachute got caught on the way down, resulting in a deadly free fall. Thornton’s body was found in a driveway in Knoxville, Tenn. The plane crashed 60 miles away in Hayesville, N.C.

After his death, duffel bags containing 220 pounds of cocaine were recovered throughout Georgia. The DEA described it as “cocaine literally falling out of the sky.” However, the last bag had been ripped into by that curious black bear, who then promptly passed away from an overdose.

Such a crazy story is definitely film-worthy, and hopefully, Banks will do it justice. Plans for the film have only just begun, so details are limited. But thanks to the source material we can get a preview of what to expect in the near future.

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