The AJC is reporting that another boater has been involved in a DUI fatality on the Lake, this time taking the lives of two children, Jake and Griffin Prince. Except for the time of day, this case is all too similar to a case our firm is working from last summer involving Katelynn Smith being life flighted from the lake and the death of her cousin after her Grandfather’s boat was struck by a boater who had been drinking.
The facts in this case involve a nightime incident where the allegedly drunk boater refused to render aid and fled the scene. Putting it simply, boating at Lake Lanier at night is insane. There are too many boaters that would never drink in daylight for fear of being spotted by Department of Natural Resources Officers who go full tilt once the sun sets. The graceful nature of boating lulls boaters into a false sense of security and overlooks a huge issue. NO HEADLIGHTS! Boats are required under State law and Coast Guard regulations to use running lights, but these are dim and difficult to use for judging distance.
Another frustrating issue in dealing with civil cases on the lake arises from the lack of expertise demonstrated by the DNR in understanding the “rules of the road” for boats on the water. In the case we are handling, I met with the entire DNR division and listened to them regurgitate one rule of right of way that pertains to two boats approaching one another on an open body of water when the case involves the intersection of a narrow creek with a larger body of water. There are over 10 regulations in play and the DNR was not even aware that boaters are supposed to stay to the right of the main channel. I was reminded for this when I read in the article quoting one of the officers as saying that the damage to the pontoon is on the right side with a green starboard light, meaning they had right of way. It is not that simple. Even though civil liability and punitive damages should be available against Paul Bennett based on his failure to render aid and possible BUI, it is essential that the investigators get it right so that the criminal prosecution sticks. There are speed considerations, angle of approach issues, horn sounding regulations and obligations regarding staying your course.
This is the 5th fatality boating crash on Allatoona and Lanier in the last 12 months that I am aware of and I just hope that the DNR bones up on boating regulations so they can effectively prosecute drunk boaters and keep them off the lake.