Lake Lanier under scrutiny after boating accidents

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For boaters, it can sometines feel like "the Wild West."

Visitors and legal experts describe Atlanta-area Lake Lanier as an atmosphere ripe for accidents, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that 7.5 million people visit Lake Lanier each year. And on some summer weekends it seems as if all of them congregate in Sunset Cove, an inlet on the southern end of metro Atlanta’s water playground.

Mark Craig, getting an early start to the weekend, guided his 34-foot cruiser into Sunset Cove Thursday evening.

“This is party cove,” he told the newspaper.

The cove is a wonderful place to tie up to friends’ boats and spend a day bobbing in the sun and sipping libations. If they drink too much, no sweat, Craig said. They just drop anchor and sleep overnight at the spot.

But the light summertime chatter of visitors to the lake has grown somber after a boat collision June 18 that killed two boys as their family enjoyed a late-night cruise. Jake Prince, 9, died of massive injuries and his brother Griffin, 13, was thrown into the dark waters. His body has not been recovered.

Paul J. Bennett, 44, the man who allegedly piloted the speeding 21-foot boat that hit them, has been charged with boating under the influence and could face charges of homicide by vessel.

In the wake of the accident, seven people were charged with BUI as part of Operation Dry Water last weekend.

“You don’t have to have a license,” Craig said. “All you have to do is buy [a boat].”

The Prince family were not novices on the water; they own a boat retail center at the lake.

With a conservative estimate of 25,000 boats on the lake and countless visitors, there are legions of newcomers in a situation where booze and inexperience can create a deadly atmosphere.

Last year, according to a review of state Department of Natural Resources reports by the Journal-Constitution, there were 28 boating-related accidents that resulted in injuries or that involved alcohol.

Last August, a man pulling his daughter on water skis was coming out of a tributary when his boat slammed into another operated by a grandfather pulling children on an innertube. A boy was catapulted from the tubing boat and drowned. His 12-year-old cousin suffered a fractured skull and facial bones and lacerations to her liver.

The driver of the boat with the skier admitted to investigators that he had been drinking beer earlier, but he was not charged because his blood-alcohol level was virtually nil when he was finally tested, said Christopher Simon, a lawyer representing the granddaughter.

“There’s no licensing procedures; it’s the Wild West out there,” Simon said. “Boaters don’t know the rules.’’

Click here for the full report.

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