Jurors soon to deliberate in deadly boating trial

by: Tom Regan Updated:

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. - Jurors will hear closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of a hair salon owner charged with causing a collision that killed two young brothers.

Prosecutors allege Paul Bennett, 45, was intoxicated when his fishing boat collided into a pontoon boat on Lake Lanier the night of June 18, 2012. The impact of the crash threw several children on the pontoon boat overboard. Jake and Griffin Prince died.

On Tuesday, expert witnesses called by the defense raised questions on the accuracy of an alcohol breath test administered to Bennett after he was located, and what happened before the collision.

"I can't be absolutely confident that the machine was operating properly that night, because again, as I pointed out, there was no external control used on the machine that given evening," said toxicologist and defense witness Dr. Jimmie Valentine.

Bennett registered a .14 reading on the test, above the legal limit of .08. The defense witnesses said Bennett's passing performance on most field sobriety tests he took was inconsistent with that level of alcohol.

"The field testing that was performed, was not consistent with a .14 blood level that was determined by the breath testing machine," Valentine said.

In cross-examination, Valentine admitted he had not inspected the machine and that some individuals can have a higher tolerance to alcohol.

Another witness for the defense said based on his examination of the paths of the two boats, evidence was inconclusive that Bennett caused the collision.

"I don't think they saw each other. Mr. Bennett didn't have a green light. But in my opinion, it didn't have anything to do with the collision at all. I think that they flat didn't see each other," said defense witness Phil Odom.

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



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