Posted: Wednesday, June 20th 2012 at 10:11pm
Search suspended for boat crash victim, memorial fund established
BUFORD - Officials with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources have suspended their search for one of the victims in Monday night's tragic boating accident on Lake Lanier.
According to Fox 5, crews will resume their search for the body of 13-year-old Griffin Prince at 7 a.m. Thursday.
The DNR has been in close contact with the Prince family throughout their search of the Shoal Creek area of Lake Lanier.
"They try to keep them involved with knowing what agencies are involved and just reassuring them that we're doing our best to use all of the resources that we've got to try to help this terrible event for them, at least this part, to an end," said DNR spokeswoman Melissa Cummings.
Cummings said the search area has expanded slightly just to make sure they're covering as much ground as possible.
She said her office remains hopeful about finding the body.
"My hope is that the next time we talk that we'll be able to say that Griffin's been recovered," said Cummings.
DNR Law Enforcement spokeswoman Elizabeth Starkey said when the search for Griffin resumes Thursday morning, officials will dive near Buford Dam and Lake Lanier Islands.
Griffin Prince has been missing since around 10:30 Monday night when the pontoon boat he was riding in was hit nearly head on by a fishing boat. Authorities said Griffin's 9-year-old brother Jake was discovered dead at the scene.
Fox 5 News is reporting that donations are being accepted at any Wells Fargo location in memory of Jake and Griffin Prince. The account number for that memorial fund is 7581668121.
Authorities have arrested Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming in connection with the case. Bennett is charged with boating under the influence, although the charges may be upgraded. He has bonded out of the Hall County Jail.
After authorities spent much of the night searching for the boat that left the scene, Bennett was taken into custody at Bald Ridge Marina, according to DNR Maj. Stephen Adams. Officers also located his center console boat, Adams said.
Mike Prince Sr., the boys' grandfather, said Bennett stopped and watched for about 10 minutes after hitting the pontoon boat.
"The only reason he didn't get Griffin was because he wasn't wearing a life jacket," Mike Prince said.
Prince, who according to Fox 5 News owns a boat retail shop in Buford called Grass Shack, told reporters that he sold Bennett the boat involved in Monday night's incident approximately seven years ago.
"He's a regular customer," Prince Sr., told Fox 5, "he comes in once a year to have his boat serviced. I mean he's a great guy...super guy."
Deniece Prince, the boys' grandmother, said that the family is trying to remain positive.
"This is not just a single event that has altered our lives. Everyone involved from the beginning of the tragedy and how it's altered everyone's lives, not just ours," Deniece Prince said.
According to the DNR, Bennett had a female passenger but she was not arrested.
There were a total of 13 people from Gwinnett County aboard the pontoon when it was struck.
The fishing boat struck the pontoon "basically head-on," Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.
Three others were injured, including the victims' mother and two other children. They have since been released from the hospital, according to DNR officials.
Deep water and timber at the bottom of the lake posed challenges for searchers Tuesday, Hall County Sheriff's Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.
"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 depth of the water in the area is more than 100 feet, he said.
The boats collided somewhere between Lake Lanier Islands and Buford Dam.
Watch for more on this developing story
The Associated Press also contributed to this story.
Link: Griffin and Jake Prince Memorial Facebook Page
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