As authorities continue to search for Griffin Prince, 13, who is feared drowned after a Monday boating accident that killed his 9-year-old brother Jake, those who know the family are asking for prayers.
The two boys, along with their father, Michael, their mother and nine others were in a pontoon boat Monday night when it collided with a 21- to 22-foot center console fishing boat in the Shoal Creek area of Lake Lanier near Buford Dam.
The fishing boat struck the pontoon “basically head-on,” Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.
The passengers included four adults and nine children.
Authorities have charged Paul J. Bennett, 44, of Cumming, who was piloting the fishing boat, with boating under the influence in the 10:30 p.m. wreck. He is free on $5,000 bail and scheduled for a first-appearance hearing on Aug. 15 in Hall County Magistrate Court. Additional charges are pending an investigation of the crash.
Attempts to reach Bennett for comment have not been successful.
Jake was a rising fourth-grader at White Oak Elementary School, and Griffin was a rising eighth-grader at Lanier Middle School, according to Sloan Roach, a spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Schools. School staff at White Oak were made aware of the situation on Wednesday and the schools will continue to keep faculty up to date with any news about funeral arrangements, Roach said.
Sympathy for the Prince family was apparent on Wednesday. Although no one answered the door at their Buford home, someone had left a flower bouquet on their front porch.
The Prince family runs the Grass Shack boat rental in Buford, according to an employee there Wednesday. The woman said family gathered on Wednesday but she did not have a public statement to offer.
She did, however, ask the public to pray for the family.
David Babineaux lives a few houses down from the family in the Windsor at Lanier neighborhood off Shadburn Ferry Road.
He described the Princes as “an All-American family.” He said they are an active clan, with the three boys and their father involved in swimming, boating and dirt biking.
“They were nice, friendly ... such a thing shouldn’t happen to nice people,” he said.
Babineaux described the Windsor neighborhood as peaceful and where a lot of neighbors know each other by name. The Prince boys were known to ride their bikes up and down the street. He recalled seeing one of the boys ride into his driveway to turn around and go the other way just a few days ago.
“I’m sure the whole neighborhood is in mourning,” he said. “It’s a really, really sad day.”
Babineaux said he heard the sirens rushing to the nearby lake Monday night after the boat crash. When he saw images of the pontoon boat on TV Tuesday, he knew it was the Princes’.
Also a father, Babineaux said he can only imagine what the family is going through now.
“They’ve lost a kid and they still can’t find the other,” said Babineaux, his voice beginning to crack with emotion. “That just makes it worse. They can’t hold their child, caress his face and give him a kiss right now.”
As friends and family mourn and pray, authorities continue to investigate the collision to determine what happened and who was at fault.
While teams continue to search for Griffin at Lake Lanier, the crash investigation is happening off site.
Unlike a car crash, collisions on the lake are tougher to investigate, officials said. Automobiles stay put while boats float off. On the water, there are obviously no tire marks or impacts on the pavement available to help determine the direction of the vessels.
“You look at the physical damage to the boat,” said Maj. Stephen Adams of the DNR’s law enforcement division.
Both boats were brought to DNR’s Lake Lanier offices at Aqualand Marina off Lights Ferry Road in South Hall. The bright red pontoon was severely damaged, with a long strip of punctured metal hanging from the right side. The left front of the fishing boat had a red smudge.
A collision reconstruction team has been examining the boats and documenting evidence. Once compiled, investigators match damage from one boat to another to determine speed and direction, Adams said.
“We have to do that so we can get a baseline (to) determine right of way and who’s as fault — if someone is at fault,” he said.
Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for DNR, said this kind of investigation can take time.
She said, “Normally, you’re looking at 30 to 45 days to complete the investigation and have everything filed in terms of paperwork.”