DNR: Lights might have prevented deadly boat crash

by: Tom Regan Updated:

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HALL COUNTY, Ga. - The lead state investigator in a boat collision that killed two brothers on Lake Lanier told a jury Friday that the boat involved in the crash had no green navigation lights prior to the collision.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Cpl. Shane Elmore suggested that had the lights been on, the victims' father may have the spotted the oncoming boat and steered clear.

Paul Bennett is charged in connection with the deaths of Jake and Griffin Prince. The two boys were killed the night of June 18, 2012.

Their father, Michael Prince, was at the helm of a pontoon boat returning from an evening on the lake with 12 adults and children.

As they were heading through an inlet near Shoal Creek Park, another boat driven by Bennett was heading the other way. The investigator said the vessels were approximately 1,000 feet apart.

"He would have been able to make the decision, ‘I'm at risk for a collision, so therefore I'm going to take action to avoid it,’" Elmore testified.

Elmore said the boats were far enough apart that if they maintained course they would have passed starboard side to starboard side.

“I have no idea why he altered his course and drove his 2002 Sea Fox into the front starboard bow of the 2011 Avalon," said Elmore.

The impact of the crash was so forceful that Bennett's boat flew seven feet over the pontoon boat and ripped a bench seat away, casting five children into the dark lake, investigators said.

Jake Prince, 9, was killed on impact. His 13-year-old brother, Griffin, was critically injured and disappeared underwater.

It took divers more than a week to locate the child's body.

Bennett is charged with homicide by vessel, boating under the influence and failing to render aid.

Authorities said Bennett remained on the scene following the crash, but then left with his girlfriend without providing any identification.

"The defendant stayed in the area for a little while, and for some unknown reason, turned his GPS off and went back to his houseboat to go to bed, because he had to work the next day," Elmore testified.

A ranger took Bennett into custody after spotting his paint-scraped fishing boat docked next to the houseboat.

The ranger administered a field sobriety test and a Breathalyzer test and arrested Bennett for boating under the influence.

The other charges were brought later by the district attorney.

Bennett has denied the charges. His trial resumes on Monday.



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