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Mountain lion sparks chase ahead of Obama visit

Just hours before President Barack Obama’s arrival in El Paso, a mountain lion led animal control officers on a chase through the city's center.
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Hours before President Barack Obama’s arrival in this border city Tuesday to deliver a speech, a mountain lion led animal control officers on a chase through central El Paso that ended when the animal was shot to death.

The female mountain lion, estimated to weigh 125 pounds, was first seen on railroad tracks near downtown around 8:30 a.m. by Union Pacific employees. They contacted El Paso's animal control unit, which began looking for the cat.

A short time later, a passerby saw the animal enter the parking garage of a state office building at 401 E. Franklin, where Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens have their offices, along with several other government agencies.

Once the animal had been cornered in the garage, a Texas Department of Health veterinarian shot it with a tranquilizer dart. But before the drug could take full effect, it jumped from the second floor of the garage back onto the street, heading north out of downtown with multiple agencies in pursuit.

Passing through a school yard, the big cat ran about a half-mile north to H&H Car Wash at 701 E. Yandell Drive, where Newman and other officers evacuated several customers and lowered the business's vehicle security gate to trap the mountain lion inside.

The animal eventually lay down, but it did not lose consciousness, so the veterinarian shot it with a second tranquilizer dart. Despite that injection, the mountain lion took off and hit the fence, finding a space to crawl through.

Since it appeared about to escape again, a police officer and an officer from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission shot the animal shortly before 10:30 a.m. The carcass will go to city animal control facilities for a necropsy.

Newman said the incident ended about two and a half hours before Obama was scheduled to arrive in the West Texas city, where he gave a speech about immigration policy.

Newman said there have been other reports of mountain lions within the city limits in recent years. The Rio Grande is only about a mile from the area where  incident area, and that the Franklin Mountains are also nearby. He said that three or four years ago, a TPWD game warden shot and killed a mountain lion in a west side neighborhood that backed up to the mountain range.