Lake Lanier search for missing teen ends for another day

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HALL COUNTY, Ga. - Crews spent a second day searching for a missing 13-year-old boy after a boat crash that killed his 9-year-old brother.

Dive teams wrapped up their search for the day around 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Investigators said Jake Prince, 9, was killed instantly Monday night when a boat driven by Paul Bennett ran into the pontoon boat that Jake and 12 other people were on. His brother, Griffin, 13, went overboard when the boat hit, and has yet to be found.

Five others were injured in the incident. Investigators said Bennett was drunk when he struck the pontoon boat.

Divers returned to the water of Lake Lanier Wednesday morning around 7 a.m. to continue the search for Griffin. Crews equipped with side scan sonar assisted in the search.

"The hope is we can find some targets underwater, and the dive team can dive on those targets and the dive team can do a recovery," said Maj. Stephen Adams with the Department of Natural Resources.

Channel 2's Dave Huddleston rode along with rescuers Wednesday as they scoured the water.

Adams told Huddleston they're searching about a quarter square mile on the lake, but pinpointing exactly where the wreck happened is extremely difficult.

Adams said they know the wreck happened around Shoals Creek, but there are added obstacles -- the area is 100 to 130 feet deep and the water's temperature is 55 degrees.

"These guys can only dive so much, given the depth, and the bottom time is very limited so we're trying to give them good targets to dive on," Adams said.

But finding good targets is also proving difficult.

"The side scan located a sunken boat on the bottom of the lake and other debris. That's a danger to the diver that would be on the bottom," Adams told Huddleston.

Despite the frustrations, Adams said they are not going to stop searching until they make a recovery.

 

Grandparent reveals new details about crash

The grandparents of the Prince boys gave Channel 2's Tony Thomas stunning insight into the accident that claimed the lives of Jake and, presumably, Griffin.

The boy's grandfather, Mike Prince Sr., told Thomas the boater who struck his family, Paul Bennett, stopped and watched for about 10 minutes after hitting the pontoon boat, as the rest of the Prince family scrambled to save the children.

The boys' grandparents said Griffin's 15-year-old brother tried to reach him but couldn't without a lifejacket.

The eldest brother had already pulled Jake's body out of the water.

The boys' grandmother, Deniece Prince, told Thomas the family is simply trying to remain positive.

"This is not just a single event that has altered our lives. Everyone involved from the beginning of the tragedy and how it's altered everyone's lives, not just ours," Deniece Prince said.

Deneice Prince said her family is very religious and continues to pray and try to remain positive.

She said those prayers include Bennett.

"With this significant event, we pray for him and his family as well as ours. We just all want to heal," Deniece Prince said.

A family in mourning

As crews continue their search for Griffin, the Prince family is also mourning their son Jake as well.

The Prince family owns the Grass Shack Boat Rental shop along Lanier Island Parkway, not far from the search area.

An employee there had no comment except to say the family is all together right now and asking for prayers.

"Terrified, shaken," said Prince's neighbor David Babineaux told Channel 2's Richard Elliot. "They're a wonderful family. I just saw the kids last week. I saw them out going up to the pool. It's just a tragedy."

No one answered the door at the Princes' Buford home when Elliot stopped by, but many people had left behind flowers and notes of condolences at the front stoop.

Elder Stephen Clements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stopped by to speak with the family, but left when he learned they weren't home.

He said the Princes are members of their church, and he had nothing but praise for the two Prince boys.

"Griffin, absolutely phenomenal, and Jake, both great examples," said Clements. "Young men who were examples of Jesus Christ to all that surrounded them, both inside the church and out."

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DNR Patrols lake for BUIs

The man charged in the deadly boat crash, is just one of dozens arrested for boating under the influence on Lake Lanier each year.

Boaters told Channel 2's Tom Regan if there's alcohol related accident involving a fatality, the boater arrested should be charged with a felony, not a misdemeanor.

They also expressed their sympathy for the family.

"It's something that hits home for everyone who is a boater here," boater Lance McClain said. "It's just horrible, horrible thing."

Regan tried unsuccessfully to find Paul Bennett, 42, who was arrested in the crash, but he bonded out of jail on a boating under the influence charge.

"It's a big lake. You don't have to ride beside someone, to have that kind of accident," another boater told Regan.

The Department of Natural Resources told Regan therea are around 30 boating under the influence arrests on Lake Lanier per year, for the last couple of years.

"I think over the years, the DNR has done a pretty good job of trying to enforce the laws and reduce the possibility of accidents like this," McClain said.

Many accidents happen at night but boaters Regan spoke with opposed any consideration of a late night boating curfew.

"I think it's ridiculous. If you know the lake, you know where to go, and if you're out there a lot you're not going to have problems," another boater said.

Bennett could face additional charges in the collision including homicide.

The search for Griffin Prince is expected to continue Thursday.

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Memorial fund

A memorial fund has been set up for the Prince children. If you would like to help, you can make a donation to the Jake & Griffin Prince Memorail Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank location. The account number for the fund is 7581668121.

A memorial Facebook page has also been set up in honor of the two boys.


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