Search suspended for teen on Lake Lanier; driver released on bond

The boater charged in the alleged hit-and-run that killed a 9-year-old boy on Lake Lanier, Paul J. Bennett (pictured), posted bond and was released from jail Tuesday afternoon.

The boater charged in the alleged hit-and-run that killed a 9-year-old boy on Lake Lanier, Paul J. Bennett (pictured), posted bond and was released from jail Tuesday afternoon.


The pontoon boat that was struck on Monday night.


Staff Photo: Frank Reddy Maj. Stephen Adams with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, far left, speaks to members of the media during a press conference on Tuesday.


Bald Ridge Marina

Bald Ridge Marina

FLOWERY BRANCH — The boater charged in the alleged hit-and-run that killed a 9-year-old boy on Lake Lanier posted bond and was released from jail Tuesday afternoon, as authorities continued to scour the waters for the deceased boy’s missing 13-year-old brother.

Paul Bennett, 44, of Cumming, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with boating under the influence in Hall County. He was released on bond later in the afternoon, Hall County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks confirmed.

Bennett is likely to face more charges after the fishing boat he was driving collided with a pontoon boat, killing a 9-year-old and injuring three others.

The search for the boy’s 13-year-old brother continued into Tuesday evening but was suspended at about 7 p.m. Crews will resume their search this morning.

There were 13 people from Gwinnett County aboard the boat when it was struck at about 10:30 p.m. Monday, authorities said. As of Tuesday evening, the names of the deceased and missing boy had not yet been released.

Emergency crews on Tuesday were using boats with sonar devices to search for the teen and planned to send divers into the water if the sonar detected something. Deep water and timber at the bottom of the lake posed challenges for searchers.

“We’ve got folks out using a side scan, and the dive team is looking,” said Maj. Stephen Adams of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “We’re continuing to process the crime scene, looking at the two boats and interviewing witnesses.”

The wreck was described by police as a hit and run, and authorities spent much of the night searching for the fishing boat. Two other people were aboard the center-console fishing boat when Bennett was arrested early Tuesday morning.

Bennett left the scene, according to investigators. A DNR ranger responding to the incident saw the boat Bennett was operating as it entered Bald Ridge Marina in Forsyth County. He was arrested about 1:30 a.m. A woman riding in the boat with Bennett was not arrested.

A nearby “good Samaritan” came to the aid of those involved in the crash, Adams said. “It was a physician who was on a boat and bass fishing,” Adams said. “He came and rendered aid and assisted.”

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

The 9-year-old’s mother and two other children were also injured. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening, Kimbrell said.

The boats collided in the Shoal Creek area on southern Lake Lanier, leaving as many as five people in the water.

Adams said divers continue to search, but “it’s almost zero visibility.” The depth of the water, he added, is more than 100 feet.

Adams said that rescue officials “have combed the shoreline, and we remain optimistic that we will find the juvenile, but we are also doing a search operation with the divers.”

Authorities have not yet determined the speed at which the boats were traveling.

The DNR’s critical incident reconstruction team is investigating the collision to determine whether the boats had the proper lights and whether they were in use. Other agencies assisting at the scene include Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and the Hall County District Attorney’s office.

An announcement identifying the victims could come Wednesday morning.

An announcement identifying the victims could come either later Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

Return to www.gwinnettdailypost.com for updates.

Staff writer Tyler Estep and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


wallyrob 3 years, 3 months ago

Last night we were camping at Old Federal and saw a bunch of police boats racing south wondering what was going on. A prayer goes out to the family of the missing teen and dead 8 year old. God Bless.


Gundoctor1 3 years, 3 months ago

There is absolutely nothing you can say to ease this pain. What a tragedy. Happens so often each Summer. I guess it has to be due to the immense population here. We are from a small Louisiana Parish and we had some boating fatalities of course, but nothing like we have seen here in 20 yrs.


SickandTired 3 years, 3 months ago

This is so tragic. Hope they lock up Mr. Bennett for a long time. I have been a long time Lake Lanier boater and refuse to go on the lake in the evening or on holidays because of all the idiots out there. All you need in GA to boat on the lake is a pulse!! Bennett was drunk...really? what a surprise! It also seems the pontoon was overloaded it doesn't look like a very big one. I always make anyone under the age of 16 wear a life jacket at all times. My prayers go out to the family of the 9 & 13 y/o.


Jen1981 3 years, 3 months ago

This is so tragic, I heard all the emergency crews last night and just prayed for whoever where involved in that tragedy, never though about a little ones loosing their lives in the lake, since our family spend a lot of time in the lake during the weekends. Hope they lock this guy long enough...The driver was drunk..are we surprised of that? I am not really since I see people at the gas station close to my house loading gas and beer on their boats. We all have to be carefull at the Lake because of all these irresponsible idiots out there. Lifejackets are needed, but if a boat crashed agianst your boat and you get hurt there not much to do...All my prayers are with this families...It is a real tragedy!


chasmcjr 3 years, 3 months ago

Sounds like the entire situation was the perfect scenario for a disaster but what a coward this guy is for leaving the scene with injured kids and others in the water. No matter whose fault it was, how could you live with yourself knowing you had done something like that.


Don 3 years, 3 months ago

I have been boating since I was twelve, that is now forty years and really would like to see some type of license law put in effect. I have my captains license and feel there should be no grandfather laws if a license is enacted. Grew up here in Atlanta and have been on Lanier for many years, it is getting insane on the weekends and holidays! I am willing to bet that about 2 in 10 people operating boats on lanier actually know the boating rules.

I sincerely feel the grief for the people on the pontoon boat and wish them the best. A tragic accident that was unavoidable.

One easy fix would be to ban all alcohol in any corps or state parks and ramps. I mean make it a $500 fine to even pocess it in a boat leaving the ramp, none at all on the grounds!

DNR, Gwinnett and Hall county need to really enorce the BUI,s in and around Sunset Cove. I really wonder if most of the boats partying in there have enough life vest for everyone on the vessel and really houseboats). Easy money for the government.


Oliver 3 years, 3 months ago

This is a very sad tragedy. My heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims.

I'm curious how they are able to charge Mr. Bennett with BUI? He wasn't arrested until 3 hours after the accident. Did he drive home? Can they also charge him with DUI? Did the other people in his boat tell authorities that Mr. Bennett was BUI? This seems very odd to me. I'm just looking for additional information, I'm not looking to make excuses for anyone.


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