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Boater safety bill goes before committee today
Mother of boy killed in Lanier incident to speak to Senate panel
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Jeffrey Hubbard, the family friend who has reportedly been investigated in the death of 11-year-old Kile Glover at Lake Lanier last summer, is expected to be the subject of a Hall County grand jury session Thursday.

Former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, who said the case will go before the grand jury, represents Glover’s mother, Tameka Foster. She is expected to make a statement today before a Georgia Senate committee that is scheduled to consider tougher boating laws.

Foster is advocating going further in some areas than the legislation does, Bell said, and local recreational boaters are forming their own opinions of the bill.

“Boater safety and education is paramount in resolving these issues,” said Lake Lanier resident Drew Leeuwenburg. “There’s a lot of inexperience; that’s the biggest threat.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, would change boating under the influence laws to more closely mirror driving under the influence laws, phase in safety education courses and raise the life jacket requirement age to 13 years old from 10. It also raises the age limit to operate some boats and personal watercraft, and it would lower the blood alcohol levels for hunters.

Bell said he believes evidence shows that Hubbard, 38, recklessly caused the death of Glover, who sustained a major brain injury after being run over by a personal watercraft. Glover, who was the stepson of singer Usher, and a girl were being pulled by a pontoon boat as Hubbard was trying to splash the two, Bell said.

Foster is advocating increasing the 100-foot law to 200 feet and stiffening the penalty for reckless homicide.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh did not return a call for comment.

The 100-foot law mandates drivers of boats and personal watercraft not operate at more than idle speed within 100 feet of a sitting object or a person in the water.

The legislation would require vessel operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, to complete a boater safety education course. People who rent vessels of 10 horsepower or more would be required undergo a similar course.

It was Hubbard’s first time on a watercraft, Bell said.

Glover was not the only tragedy on Lake Lanier last summer. Jake Prince, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, from Buford, were killed after a 21- to 22-foot center console fishing boat rammed into the 17-passenger pontoon boat their family and three other families were riding on last June.

Paul J. Bennett, 44, has been charged with eight counts of homicide by vessel, boating under the influence, failing to render aid and reckless operation of a vessel. He has a tentative trial date of May 20.

The proposed law would lower the legal blood alcohol limit for adults operating boats and personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis, from .10 to .08, the same as for driving a motor vehicle. The 100-foot law mandates that drivers of boats and personal watercraft not operate at more than idle speed within 100 feet of a sitting object or a person in the water.

“Anything that makes the lake safer is a good idea,” said lake resident Heidi Nufer.

She and her family have lived on Lanier for 20 years. She made her 15-year-old son take a U.S. Coast Guard approved and recognized boater safety class last summer before she let him operate a WaveRunner.

Leeuwenburg said he doesn’t think raising the age limits on some water vessels will improve safety. Experience and education in knowing how to operate a boat is more important, he said.

“At 9 years old, my son could operate a 20-foot boat,” Leeuwenburg said. “There’s 40- and 50-year-olds on the lake that don’t know how to operate a boat.”

The Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee will meet at 1 p.m. in room 450 at the Capitol Building in Atlanta.