Originally created 07/04/06

Boating accident prompts warnings



A weekend boating death on Lake Sinclair marked Georgia's 10th boating fatality of the year, prompting new July Fourth warnings from the Department of Natural Resources.

Sunday's accident on the lake near Milledgeville occurred as the victim - Mark Baxter, 48 - was watching a fireworks display from his pontoon boat. Another vessel struck his boat, instantly killing him.

The operator of the other boat stopped briefly, then fled, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Wildlife Resources Division. He remained at large Monday.

Mr. Baxter was not only the state's 10th boating fatality in 2006, but also one of 64 boating accidents that also caused 37 injuries, she said. There have also been 35 drownings in state rivers and lakes.

At Thurmond Lake near Augusta, both the Wildlife Resources Division and the Army Corps of Engineers will have more rangers than usual patrolling today, which is one of the year's busiest days, said Law Enforcement Lt. Col. Homer Bryson of the Wildlife Resources Division.

"Boating incidents happen in a split second, and most could have been avoided by following some simple rules and safety guidelines for operating watercraft," he said.

Alcohol is a major factor in boating accidents and drownings. So far this year, state rangers have made 103 arrests for boating under the influence.

Statistically, almost all drownings involve victims who are not wearing life preservers, which are mandatory for children younger than 10 in a moving boat, he said.

Water levels on corps reservoirs, including Thurmond Lake, are lower than usual, meaning some swimming areas might be smaller or shallower, corps ranger Tanya Grant said.

"During low lake levels, swimmers may be tempted to go out beyond the designated buoy lines, creating a very unsafe or potentially dangerous situation," she said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

THE TOLL


Here are boating accident statistics from Georgia and South Carolina departments of Natural Resources for the year to date:

GEORGIA


Accidents: 64


Fatalities: 10


Injuries: 37


Other drownings: 35




SOUTH CAROLINA


Accidents: 20


Fatalities: 6


Injuries: Unknown


Drownings: Unknown