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Authorities identify Duluth teen who drowned in Lake Lanier
17-year-old was wading in water at Little Ridge Park
Rescue vehicles respond to Little Ridge Park in Forsyth County after a Duluth teenager drowned there Friday afternoon. - photo by Jim Dean

CUMMING — A Duluth teenager drowned Friday in Lake Lanier after authorities say he waded into a steep drop-off at Little Ridge Park.

The teen was identified as Ariel Cotuc Chaudjay, 17, according to Forsyth County Deputy Coroner Ted Scarborough.

Chaudjay’s body was recovered by divers in 10 feet of water, about 45 feet from the shore, authorities said.

According to Jennifer Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, it was the only drowning recorded on Georgia’s waterways on the Fourth of July.

A native of Guatemala, Chaudjay was at the lake with several friends who told sheriff’s deputies the teenager knew how to swim.

Authorities said the victim waded out into the water ahead of his friends, who thought he was waving.

It took divers with the local fire department about 12 minutes to find Chaudjay.

The body was recovered at about 3:04 p.m. in the same area of the lake that the divers practice swimming drills.

Karleen Chalker, a spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, said neither alcohol nor foul play was involved.

Authorities are urging Lake Lanier visitors to use extra caution after the teen’s drowning.

"Lake Lanier is not the lake it used to be," said Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers. "Due to the drought and extremely low level of Lake Lanier, severe drop-offs in the underwater terrain that were once 40 to 50 feet from shore are now 5 to 10 feet from shore."

Falling into an unexpected pit creates a hazard, regardless of whether or not one can swim. "Even to an experienced swimmer, the surprise of stepping into an abyss can be deadly," Shivers said.

The natural reaction to a steep drop, he said, is to gasp.

Ernest Noe, a park ranger, reminded lakegoers to take precautions. "Don’t go beyond your limits and don’t drink," Noe said. "Make sure you stay in eyeshot of other people."

Shivers, standing on the shore near the rescue staging area, pointed out to the blue-green water.

"See how innocent that looks," he said. "All of those severe drop offs are now in the main area where you’ll be walking."

Friday’s drowning was the third of the year in Lanier, but the first on the Forsyth County side.

In late May, a Gwinnett County man drowned off Van Pugh Park in Hall County. He was in about 10 feet of water 20 feet from the shore.

The body of a 46-year-old Ellenwood man was recovered in early June, about a month after he fell from a personal watercraft and went under near a fueling dock at Aqualand Marina near Flowery Branch.

In addition, a 45-year-old McDonough man was found dead earlier this week on a boat near the service dock at Holiday Marina.

Authorities have said they believe the man was a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. Foul play is not suspected.

Last year, nine people drowned in the lake — one over the Fourth of July holiday period at Buford Dam Park — and two others were killed in boating accidents.

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