BUFORD -- If the body of 13-year-old Griffin Prince isn't recovered beforehand, search operations on Lake Lanier will be suspended for the weekend, officials said Thursday.
As of Thursday evening, search crews from the Hall County Sheriff's Office, Department of Natural Resources and several other local jurisdictions had no luck in their continued efforts to locate Prince, presumed killed alongside his brother when his family's pontoon boat was struck head-on late Monday.
Hall County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said personnel were "continuously reassessing the search operation."
"We will be here (Friday)," Wilbanks said, "but we are planning to suspend operations over the weekend because the very high boat traffic in the Shoal Creek area will create dangerous conditions."
Wilbanks said there were no concrete plans Thursday as to when a search might be called off. Capt. Mark Padgett, the region supervisor for DNR's law enforcement division, said his teams usually operate for as long as 10 to 14 days.
"It's such a tragic event for the family,and it's also a crime scene," Padgett said. "We're trying to bring some closure to the family, and we have other things we have to look at for this thing, too."
Griffin Prince and 9-year-old brother Jake were killed late Monday when the pontoon boat driven by their father was struck by a fishing boat. Forty-four-year-old Paul Bennett has been arrested and charged with boating under the influence, but will likely face additional homicide by vessel charges.
A total of 13 people were on the pontoon boat, and, in addition to Griffin and Jake, three were injured. Bennett reportedly lingered at the scene for 10 minutes before fleeing in the boat he purchased from the Princes, who have run the Grass Shack boat shop on Holiday Road since 1991.
A wreath now hangs outside the family's store, which has remained open during the tragedy.
Bennett was arrested at about 1 a.m. Tuesday and later released on bond from Hall County jail. No special conditions -- i.e. an order to stay off the lake -- were placed on his release "because he bonded out before it went to a committal hearing," Wilbanks said.
Attempts to reach Bennett, who owns a hair salon in Johns Creek, have been unsuccessful.
The search for Griffin Prince's body continued Thursday. Padgett said crews completed their second aerial search of the area between Lake Lanier Islands and the Buford Dam, and divers have persisted despite 100-foot depths and about two feet of visibility.
As many as 45 people are searching at any one time, Padgett said. The process is complicated by a lack of a precise accident scene.
"Nobody's going to be able to say, 'This is exactly where this happened,'" Padgett said. "We've looked at GPS coordinates that came off the pontoon boat."
Caution is urged to other boaters taking to the water during the search. Padgett said there are no "restricted areas," per se, but crews are vigilantly protecting divers by encircling them, throwing up flags and flashing lights.
"We try to make a minimum impact," Padgett said, "but we're not going to let them go close to those divers."
This week's tragedy has brought concerns about boating safety on Lanier back to the surface.
There were seven boating-related fatalities on Lake Lanier last year, making up nearly half of the 17 reported statewide by DNR, which publishes stats from eight major lakes throughout Georgia.
The collision that claimed the lives of Jake and Griffin Prince was the second fatal accident on the Lanier this year. On the evening of April 21, two boats collided in the water near Lower Overlook Park. While two boaters were able to swim safely to shore, Stephen Blake Jones, 59, of Duluth was killed. Lack of lighting has been blamed for the crash.
A father and stepson from Lawrenceville drowned on the lake just a week prior to that incident.
In Georgia, the legal alcohol limit for boat drivers is .10, even though residents who get behind the wheel of a car must keep their blood-alcohol content below .08. An attempt to lower the boating limit to .08 was approved in Georgia's House of Representatives this year but died in a Senate committee.
Bennett's BUI arrest was the 20th on Lanier this year. Padgett said there are about three patrol boats on Lanier most weekends, a number that has suffered during budget cuts.
"That is down from 10 years ago when we probably had seven or eight boats out there," he said. "But again, we're just down in numbers. There are 8 million visitors a year (on Lanier). You obviously can't be everywhere."
Contributions to the Jake and Griffin Prince Memorial Fund can be made at any Wells Fargo branch.
A Facebook page has also been established at facebook.com/JakeandGriffinPrince. Friends, family and the community are encouraged to share uplifting stories about the boys, described as "two of the most special and unique souls that God ever put on this earth."
For now, the search for Griffin continues.
"We have additional resources on stand-by to augment operations into next week," said Wilbanks, the Hall County Sheriff's office spokesman.