Just before 11 PM on Monday, June 18, 2012, a pontoon boat carrying individuals from four families in Gwinnett County was traveling in the Shoal Creek area near Buford Dam on Lake Lanier. In spite of having its lights on, their boat was hit head-on by a speeding center-console fishing boat.
The fishing boat left the scene following the accident.
Killed in the wreck was nine-year-old Jake Prince of Buford. Jake’s 13-year-old brother, Griffin Prince, was also on the pontoon boat at the time of the crash. Griffin has been missing since the accident and is presumed to be drowned.
The father of the two boys, Michael Prince, was driving the pontoon boat that was carrying four adults and nine children. Five passengers on the pontoon boat who were thrown into the water by the collision — including Mrs. Prince — were treated for minor injuries and released from Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The outstanding response from the Hall County Fire Department, Gwinnett and Forsyth County authorities, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, brought 11 people safely to shore.
Witnesses at the scene gave police a description of the fishing boat involved in the deadly hit-and-run.
According to DNR sources, the DNR ranger who responded to the accident saw the fishing boat that struck the pontoon boat as the fishing boat entered Bald Ridge Marina in Forsyth County. After confirming the description of the boat that left the scene, investigators went back to the marina. They found the fishing boat believed to be the one that fled the fatal accident and made an arrest.
DNR officials said 44-year-old Paul J. Bennett of Cumming, GA — a licensed cosmetologist who owns Paul Bennett Studio in Johns Creek — was charged with boating under the influence (BUI). More charges, including homicide by vessel and failing to give aid, are being considered.
Bennett is free on $5,000 bail pending an August 15, 2012, first-appearance hearing in Hall County Magistrate Court.
Two other people, including one woman, were on the boat when the arrest took place, but were not immediately charged. They may face charges as the investigation continues.
The search for Griffin’s body is ongoing. The DNR says water depths in excess of 100 feet, underwater trees, poor visibility, and not knowing precisely where the collision occurred are hampering rescue efforts
DNR and Hall County Sheriff’s Office underwater search and recovery teams will use sonar to search the area.
Georgia’s DNR Critical Incident Reconstruction Team is working on the investigation, as is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Our thoughts and prayers are especially with the Prince family.
We urge you to exercise caution while enjoying Lake Allatoona.