Deal says Lanier tragedy highlights need to lower blood alcohol limit for boaters

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ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal called Thursday for state lawmakers to pass legislation that would lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters and hunters following a boating crash on Lake Lanier that killed two young brothers.

Deal said the current blood alcohol limit of 0.10 for boaters and hunters is too high and pledged to work with lawmakers to lower it to 0.08, which is the legal limit for driving a vehicle.

“As a state, we need to have one level across the board,” Deal said in a statement. “Far too many tragedies have occurred as a result of boating under the influence, and we must take the necessary steps to keep people safe.

Deal’s statement came a day after rescuers found the body of 13-year-old Griffin Prince, who was killed along with his 9-year-old brother, Jake, on the lake north of Atlanta. Authorities have charged Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming, with boating under the influence in the June 18 crash.

Col. Eddie Henderson, who heads law enforcement for the state Department of Natural Resources, previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his agency encountered stiff opposition when it tried to persuade state lawmakers to change the law.

This year, the legislation passed in the House but did not make it out of committee in the Senate.

On Thursday, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, echoed the governor’s remarks.

“I fully support the governor’s proposal to lower the blood alcohol limit to .08 for boating and hunting, as it is now for operating a vehicle. This is a gap in our law which we can no longer accept.” Ralston said in a statement.

The newspaper also reported that budget cuts have affected state ranger patrols on Georgia waterways. Henderson said the agency has lost about 20 percent of its rangers and are down to about 200 positions.

Between 1999 and 2004, rangers routinely issued 55 to 77 boating-under-the-influence tickets a year, the newspaper said. Since 2005, they’ve issued under 35 BUI tickets most years.

Also Thursday, Deal cautioned boaters who will be celebrating the upcoming holiday that state and local officers will be working to arrest violators of boating laws.

“With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I ask that boaters take this tragedy into serious consideration while celebrating during the holiday,” Deal said. “Safety must be a priority at all times.”

The body of Griffin Prince was found 113 feet beneath the surface Wednesday evening after a nine-day search of Lake Lanier that involved dive teams, cadaver dogs and sophisticated FBI sonar equipment.

Authorities said the two boys were killed June 18 when the pontoon boat driven by the boy’s father, Mike Prince, was hit by another boat.


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