Mother to boater charged in children's death: "You killed my family"

by: Tom Regan Updated:

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HALL COUNTY, Ga. —

The mother of two children killed when the pontoon boat they were riding on was struck by another boat on Lake Lanier, testified Tuesday in the trial of the man accused in the deaths.

Prosecutors allege Paul Bennett was driving his boat drunk and fled the scene of the deadly wreck in June 2012. He is on trial for numerous charges including homicide by vessel, boating under the influence and failure to render aid.

Tara Prince said her family and another family were out for an evening of recreation on the lake when she suddenly heard the impact of collision.

"It was an enormously loud, crashing sound, being stopped dead in the water. I saw stuff flying over my head, and landing in the water behind us," Prince said.

The mother said her oldest son scrambled to find her 9-year-old son Jake, who was thrown by the impact.

"I heard my son Ryan in the water. He said Jake's been hurt. I could see him trying to hold him up. I was trying to revive Jake with chest compression. His face started swelling and I knew there wasn't anything that I could do for him," Prince said.

Prince and others began a desperate search for 13-year-old Griffin Prince, who vanished beneath the surface. Prince said she screamed to the defendant's boat for help.

"I was yelling back and asking, 'There's children in the water. Please come and help me look, bring light, please come look for the children,'" Prince said.

The mother testified Bennett did not come to help. She said she could hear his voice and the voice of a female companion.

"I could hear a female and male kind of moaning and crying, sitting next to my dead little boy, and thinking of my other boy sinking to the bottom of the lake, I yelled out, 'What are you crying for? You killed my family.'"

It took dive teams nine days to recover the body of Griffin Prince. Jake Prince died the night of the collision.

A girl from the other family on board the boat also testified to the jury about what happened when she was thrown from the boat. The judge withheld her identity.

"I remember I was like searching for air, under like something, I think it was part of the seat. I was searching, trying to find the top of the water," the prosecution witness said.

In opening statements, defense attorney Barry Zimmerman told the jury that he will present testimony to show Paul Bennett did seek help following the crash and that there was reasonable doubt that he was intoxicated beyond the legal limit. The attorney claimed what happened was a terrible accident, but not a crime.

The prosecution said they will present testimony from a park ranger who interviewed Bennett following the crash. The trial is expected to last about a week.