Suspected driver of hit-run boat arrested, charged with BUI
North Buckhead Driving and DUI School
The driver of a boat believed involved in a fatal hit-and-run collision on Lake Lanier Monday night has been arrested.
DNR Major Walter Rabon told the AJC that the arrest was made early Tuesday morning. The suspect, identified as Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming, has been charged with boating under the influence but could face other charges. He was taken to the Hall County jail.
A woman was also on the boat when the arrest took place, around 1:30 a.m., but has not been charged.
A 9-year-old boy died and his 13-year-old brother was still missing late Tuesday morning after the two boats, a fishing boat and a pontoon, collided around 10:30 p.m. Monday.
The brothers were on the pontoon boat, which investigators said was carrying 13 people from four families, DNR officials said. The parents of the brothers were also on the boat.
Firefighters pulled 11 people to shore after the crash, which happened between Lake Lanier Islands and the Buford Dam, said David Kimbrell, Hall County fire chief.
A physician who was bass fishing nearby also rendered aid to those injured in the incident.
Five people who were on the pontoon boat were treated at Northeast Georgia Medical Center and have been released, DNR Law Enforcement Section Major Stephen Adams said late Tuesday morning.
He said it would likely be Tuesday night or Wednesday before the names of the brothers killed and missing would be released.
Adams said that after a description of the suspected hit-and-run fishing boat was broadcast, one of the rangers on the lake overnight remembered seeing a similar vessel earlier at Bald Ridge Marina in Forsyth County, and another ranger was sent to the marina.
That ranger found the boat, which had damage consistent with a collision, and arrested Bennett, who was still at the marina, Adams said.
A command center was set up at Shoal Creek Park in Buford early Tuesday as emergency responders continued to search the water for debris, Kimbrell said. The pontoon boat was later towed into the dock, then taken to a DNR office on the lake. The fishing boat was also being brought to the DNR office Tuesday.
Adams said that homicide by vessel and failure to render aid are among the other charges Bennett could possibly face once the investigation is completed.
He said investigators had not determined which boat had the right-of-way Monday night. Both boats were in motion when the collision occurred, Adams said.
“There’s a lot of damage to the pontoon boat,” Adams said. “That didn’t happen by being bumped.”
“DNR and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office underwater search and recovery team will be conducting initial sonar searches of the area [Tuesday] morning,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. “The initial search area will be of considerable size, with a water depth in excess of 100 feet in some places. Our divers will enter the water to search likely areas based on the results of the sonar searches and ongoing interviews with witnesses/victims.”
Adams said that while boating is a safe activity, “especially at night, it can be dangerous if you are under the influence, not paying attention or operating recklessly.”
DUI Schools Atlanta Blogger’s Note: This is a tragic reminder that drinking and operating any type of vehicle can have disastrous consequences. Most often it is going to happen on the road, but watch out on the water. The same person who is very careful not to drink and drive might not think twice about having a few beers while out on the lake. Yesterday’s events remind us that the outcome can be just as deadly.
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