Prison Sentence for “Boating Under the Influence” Fatality on Lake Lanier

In the summer of 2012, a rash of fatal “boating under the influence” incidents plagued the Atlanta area lakes. This led the Georgia General Assembly to pass legislation to lower the blood alcohol limit for boat operators to 0.08%. This legislation makes the legal blood alcohol limit in operating a vehicle the same whether on land or on water.

Sadly, the reason for this new push in legislation came after two Gwinnett brothers were killed after a man struck their family’s pontoon boat in June 2012.

The man who caused the fatal lake crash, Paul Bennett, was accused of boating drunk when his boat collided with the pontoon boat on Lake Lanier around 10:30 p.m. on June 18, 2012. The Prince family was among the 13 people on board at the time of the crash. The impact sent the two youngest Prince brothers, Jake, 9, and Griffin, 13, into the dark lake.

After the collision Ryan, the oldest of the Prince brothers, jumped into the lake and was able to pull Jake from the water, but the boy couldn’t be revived. It was nine painful days before the divers located Griffin’s body, 113 feet under water.

Bennett, 45, of Cumming, was found guilty of boating under the influence, reckless operation of a vehicle, and failure to render aid in the crash that killed the Prince brothers in 2012. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, followed by 18 months on probation and 400 hours to community service. He is no longer allowed to operate a boat in Georgia and a Hall County judge ruled he must complete drug and alcohol evaluations.

Eleven jurors reached the decision after a twelfth juror was removed after allegedly looking online for details in the case.

Nationally, according to the US Coast Guard, in 2012 some 4515 recreational boating accidents caused 651 deaths and 3000 injuries. The fatality rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which deals with accidental injury risks as well as communicable diseases,  says alcohol use affects judgment, vision, balance, and coordination, is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities, and is just as dangerous as driving under the influence on land.

Georgia boaters should study the Georgia boating safety rules including those on unsafe operation, accidents and casualties, and alcohol, take a boating safety course and generally increase their awareness of water safety and boating safety issues.

Unfortunately for victims, Georgia law still lags on financial responsibility for boating, as insurance is not required for a boat license. That may be an issue for legislators to consider in the future.  However, smart boat owners carry liability insurance for their boats and personal water craft. Representation of boating accident victims requires knowledgeable counsel who can make a thorough exploration of all insurance coverage possibilities