Man arrested in deadly Lake Lanier boat collision

By Jeff Martin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 10:03 a.m. MDT

ATLANTA — Crews were using sonar Tuesday to search for a 13-year-old who disappeared in Lake Lanier after a fishing boat rammed a pontoon boat, killing an 8-year-old and injuring three other passengers on the vessel, authorities said.

The fishing boat left the area after the collision, authorities said.

Deep water and timber at the bottom of the lake posed challenges for searchers, Hall County sheriff's Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.

Early Tuesday morning, Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming was arrested at Bald Ridge Marina and charged with boating under the influence, authorities said. A home number for Bennett could not be located, and it wasn't known whether he has an attorney representing him.

A ranger on the lake had heard broadcasts about the search during the night and recalled seeing a similar vessel earlier at the marina, authorities said. Officers found the boat at the marina and took Bennett into custody there, said Maj. Stephen Adams of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

There were 13 people from Gwinnett County aboard the pontoon boat when it was struck around 11 p.m. Monday.

The fishing boat struck the pontoon boat "basically head-on," Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.

The 8-year-old's mother and two other children were also injured, authorities said. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening.

Crews planned to send divers into the water to search for the teen if the sonar detected something.

"The exact location of the accident has not been determined because it occurred during darkness and of course there was a lot of confusion," Wilbanks said. The water is more than 100 feet deep in some spots, he said.

The boats collided between Lake Lanier Islands and Buford Dam. The area is just north of Buford, about 40 miles from Atlanta.

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