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Another teen drowns in Lake Lanier

POSTED: July 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
A 14-year-old boy has become the second teen to drown on Lake Lanier this holiday weekend, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

Both drownings happened after the teens fell into drop-offs in otherwise shallow water and a Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman stressed warnings made to the public before the beginning of the holiday weekend: Be extremely careful in the waters of Lake Lanier because the lowered lake level makes the terrain unpredictable.

Dago Bento Mejia drowned late Saturday afternoon near Bell’s Mill Bridge, according to Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland.

Mejia’s death was one of two drownings across the state Saturday and the third of the holiday weekend, according to Jennifer Barnes, a spokeswoman with the Department of Natural Resources. Saturday’s other drowning happened in a privately owned pond in Effingham County, Barnes said.

A 17-year-old Duluth teen drowned Friday in Lake Lanier at a park in Forsyth County. Ariel Cotuc Chaudjay, 17, had been wading in the water with friends when he stepped into a drop-off and went underwater.

Barnes confirmed that the weekend’s two drownings on Lake Lanier happened in similar circumstances, as both drowned after stepping into drop-offs; Mejia had been wading and swimming in knee-deep water when he went into a drop-off.

She warned that people should be very cautious when swimming or even walking in the waters of Lake Lanier, especially those who cannot swim or are taking swimming lessons.

"There’s just no telling where those drop-offs may be," she said.

Even seemingly shallow water can hide treacherous drop-offs.

Strickland said that the lake was shallow near the area where Mejia drowned, and the boy’s body was found in about 11 to 14 feet of water.

At about 6:40 p.m. Saturday, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Hall County Fire Services responded to a possible drowning in the area of Bell’s Mill Bridge on Cleveland Highway, Strickland said.

Witnesses said the boy went under water while swimming with family and friends and did not resurface, Strickland said. Dive teams from both the sheriff’s office and fire services searched the lake for about an hour before recovering the body.

Resuscitation efforts were started at the scene and continued as the teen was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center but were unsuccessful, according to Cagle. The teen was pronounced dead at the hospital.

According to Strickland, preliminary investigation indicates Mejia was visiting the area from East Meadow, N.Y.

No foul play is suspected, Strickland said, calling it a "tragic accident."

The incident remains under investigation by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

This weekend’s three deaths brings the total number of drownings across the state to 37 so far this year, according to Barnes, four of them on Lake Lanier.

In addition to Saturday’s two drownings, Barnes said there were 14 boating under the influence arrests across the state, two of those on Lake Lanier. There also were nine boating accidents across the state on Saturday, none on Lake Lanier.

In a boating accident Friday on Lake Lanier, a 16-year-old girl sustained injuries when she fell from a tube being pulled behind a boat, Barnes said. The girl was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center for treatment. There were no additional details on her condition or the extent of her injuries.

On Georgia’s roads, 12 people died in the first 48 hours of the 78-hour holiday period, according to the Georgia State Patrol. The patrol is predicting 19 deaths on the state’s roads.

There have been some 1,359 wrecks resulting in 471 injuries as of 6 p.m. Saturday, according to the patrol. The holiday period ends at midnight.

Man fires guns in his business; no one hurt

Aside from the drowning, Saturday mostly remained quiet across Hall County, though deputies were called to a business in the afternoon after a report of shots being fired.

An intoxicated man fired two guns eight times inside his own business Saturday afternoon, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., Van Kirstead, 72, the owner of Van’s Golf Carts on Brown’s Bridge Road, "fired a pistol and a shotgun for a total of eight rounds," said Major Jeff Strickland of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

No customers were inside the business at the time, but there was one person in an adjoining apartment. No one was injured.

Kirstead was charged with reckless conduct and taken to the Hall County jail.

In another incident, a man was stabbed early Saturday morning after getting into an altercation with another man, according to the sheriff’s office.

The victim was stabbed in the stomach area and was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Strickland said.

The stabbing took place at 1 a.m. on Fourth Street off of Mountain View Road.

Strickland said a suspect was taken into custody, but the name of the person arrested was not available.

The incident was similar to another stabbing that took place at 11 p.m. Friday on Myrtle Street.

The injuries were not fatal in either stabbing, but the suspect in the Friday night incident is not in police custody.

Authorities are looking for a Hispanic man in his 20s, wearing a black shirt and jeans who walked away from the scene.

Staff writer Melissa Weinman contributed to this article.



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