Jury deliberating in deadly boating case

by: Tom Regan Updated:


HALL COUNTY, Ga. - A jury in Hall County is weighing the evidence and deliberating the fate of a hair salon owner charged in a boating collision that killed two young brothers.

Paul Bennett is accused of boating under the influence when he collided with a pontoon boat on Lake Lanier on June 18, 2012.

Jake and Griffin Prince, ages 9 and 13, died in the crash.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Barry Zimmerman told the jury there is no conclusive evidence showing who is at fault in the collision.

"Both these drivers did not see each other. Both these drivers maybe didn't pay attention. This is an accident. Nothing more, nothing less. It was an accident, not a crime," Zimmerman said.

The defense lawyer recalled testimony from a fisherman who said Bennett remained at the scene for over an hour.

The lawyer said Bennett went into the water in an attempt to help and alerted deputies at the shoreline about the accident.

He said Bennett only left to return to his houseboat because his girlfriend was experiencing a diabetic emergency and needed a sugary drink.

Zimmerman said breath test results on Bennett were questionable because they were taken hours after the crash, and were affected by swings of a Jack Daniels whiskey and coke that the defendant had when he went home.

He said Bennett passed all field sobriety tests with the exception of those for which he had physical excuse.

"No manifestations what so ever. No slurring of words, no stumbling. No unsteady on your feet, nothing. We don't have a less safe operator," Zimmerman said.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh cited the results of the alcohol breath tests, which showed a .14, well above the .08 legal limit.

"One should not be operating a boat in the condition he was in. Because of the condition he was in, he caused the deaths of these two young boys through this collision," Darragh said.

The district attorney also told the jury that Bennett and his girlfriend left then scene because he knew he was intoxicated and that the crash had been fatal.

"He does express some sorrow for the loss of children. A fact that he knew before he left that scene. He knew that because the mother of Jake and Griffin called out to him, 'you killed my babies.' I submit to you, that is why he left the scene. This is no legal accident. This is a drunken boating collision caused by Paul Bennett and he should be held responsible," Darragh said.

Bennett is charged with 13 counts including homicide by vessel, boating under the influence, reckless boating and failing to render aid.

The jury deliberated for five hours Wednesday and will resume Thursday morning.

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