A Georgia Senate committee heard from a mother who lost her child on Lake Lanier last summer before approving new boating safety legislation Tuesday.
The Natural Resources and the Environment Committee voted unanimously after hearing from several speakers, including an emotional Tameka Raymond, whose son Kile Glover died after the 11-year-old was struck in a boating accident. Glover was the stepson of entertainer Usher.
Everyone who spoke, including officers from the Department of Natural Resources, offered support for the bill.
Raymond offered suggestions and voiced concerns during her testimony.
The full chamber could consider the legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, later this week.
“I think this legislation and this law is very, very important because I think that it’s senseless and it was something that was preventable,” Raymond said, referring to her son’s accident.
Sections of the bill are called the “Kile Glover Boat Education Law” and the “Jake and Griffin Prince BUI Law,” named after three children who died on Lanier last summer.
The bill clarifies the age limits on operating personal watercraft and boats and requires that anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, complete a boater education program. People who rent or lease a personal watercraft must have a safety briefing.
The legislation also would lower the legal blood alcohol limit for adults operating boats and personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis, from 0.10 to 0.08, the same as for driving a motor vehicle, and penalties would mirror Driving Under the Influence laws. The state would also start requiring children 13 and younger, instead of just 10 and younger, to wear a personal flotation device or life jacket.
“That day has forever changed my life,” Raymond said.
Kile was very artistic, Raymond told the committee. He loved to paint abstract paintings and was musical. He wasn’t very athletic or a regular at the lake, but he loved water and looked forward to spending time there with his dad, she said. About an hour before the accident in July, he created a postcard with his iPad that said “Hello from paradise.”
“He loved, loved, loved, aquatics, he loved swimming,” she said. “He liked to go to the lake.”
Glover suffered a major brain injury in July after he was run over by a Jet Ski. Jeffrey Hubbard of Atlanta, a family friend, was trying to splash Glover and a girl in an inner tube that was being pulled by a pontoon boat, Raymond’s attorney Ashley Bell said. Hubbard was not cited then, but Bell said he expects a Hall County grand jury to hear evidence about the incident soon.
An earlier collision, in June, killed Jake Prince, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, from Buford. They died 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.
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.
Boating statistics from the Department of Natural Resources show that between January and Aug. 15, 2012, there were 56 people cited for BUIs and 29 boating incidents on Lake Lanier.
Col. Eddie Henderson, chief of law enforcement for the Wildlife Resources Division, said enforcement of these changes won’t be burdensome because officers already look for similar violations when they patrol. The department worked closely with the Lake Lanier Caucus and with Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration to design the bill.
The changes are just mirroring what the law is in other areas, such as driving and hunting safety courses, and it should be a smooth transition, Henderson said.
“So years down the road, anybody operating a vessel will have had this so they’ll know the proper operation,” he said.
Raymond’s suggestions to the committee included requiring the boater education courses to have a critical thinking aspect, requiring protective headgear for children and more distance between people enjoying recreation on the lake.
Bell, a former Hall County commissioner, told the committee that people who behave recklessly on the lake should face stiffer penalties.
“This could have been avoided,” Raymond said. “Everyday that I try to make sense of it, it does not make sense; it just doesn’t.”