Five Dead As Three Night Boating Accidents Mar Georgia Summer
Three separate accidents on Lake Allatoona and Lake Rabun in two weeks.
The summer of 2005 began on Georgia’s lakes the way most summers do. Anglers, skiers, and pleasure boaters took to the water in droves as temperatures warmed. And until the last week of June, there had been very few accidents.
However, in a 10-day stretch between June 20 and July 1, three separate boating accidents — all of which occurred at night — left five people dead.
DNR’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) is conducting thorough investigations of each accident. Therefore, some details were not available to GON at presstime.
The first fatality occurred Monday, June 20, 2005. An 18-year-old boy was killed on Lake Allatoona when a bass boat collided with the small paddle boat he was in.
Ronnie Ragsdale of Acworth, operator of the bass boat, was fishing a pot tournament on Allatoona with his son, Jeremy. The tournaments typically run from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. According to statements from Ronnie’s ex-wife, Barbara White, of Acworth, Ronnie was running his boat from one spot to another a few minutes before 10 p.m. when he swerved to avoid what he thought was a large block of styrofoam from one of Allatoona’s myriad floating docks.
He didn’t see the object quickly enough and hit it as he passed. Ronnie was ejected from the boat, and other anglers in the area heard the commotion and came to help Jeremy get Ronnie out of the water.
“He thought it was a big block of styrofoam that broke off one of the docks,” said Barbara.
Ronnie and the men who came to help him out of the lake then motored over to the large object to move it. They saw a young boy sitting in a paddle boat, and another boy leaning over with his head in the water.
Billy Todd Bell, 14, and Dusty Bell, 18, reportedly were camping at Allatoona Landing Campground with their grandfather. The boys were on the lake in the paddle boat with no lights.
Ronnie, Jeremy, and Billy were treated at the scene. Dusty was taken to Floyd Medical Center in Rome where he died the following day.
According to his statement to investigators, Ronnie had his running lights on when the accident occurred. The boys’ grandfather said the pair had been out in the paddleboat to go fishing and had either stayed out too long or snuck away from their campsite after the sun went down.
The second fatal crash involving bass boats occurred on the evening of June 30, two boats collided on Lake Rabun, injuring two men and killing two more.
According to Sgt. Johnny Johnson, WRD Law Enforcement officer for Region II, both boats were underway when they struck one another. According to statements by the boaters, the boat driven by McKay was leaving a fishing spot. He was powering the boat up to get on plane, and as the bow raised up, he failed to see another vessel approaching until the last minute.
The bow of McKay’s boat struck the passenger side of the other boat. Each passenger was ejected and were unaccounted for after dive teams spent the night combing the waters one mile east of Halls Boat House.
“It’s pretty clear by looking at the wreckage of both boats, that the one boat pretty much ran over the other one,” said Johnny.
The body of one of the victims, 16-year-old Kyle Wood, of Hollywood, was recovered on Friday, July 1 in 35 feet of water. Divers found Marty’s body only a few feet from that spot in almost 60 feet of water on Saturday, July 2.
Neither man was wearing a lifevest.
The scene of the accident was not a “blind point” by the definition of law, according to Johnny. DNR marks such points with buoys to caution boaters of danger.
“This point was like a wide, round bend, but it’s still not easy to see around some of the points on these mountain lakes,” Johnny said.
Two more Lake Allatoona fatalities occurred on Wednesday, June 29, at 1:30 a.m., in an accident between an 18-foot Chapparal fishing/ski boat and a 24- to 28-foot cuddy-cabin Bayliner. The crash killed 40-year-old Jason Dean, of Acworth, and 24-year-old Lauren Mills, of Kennesaw.
A pair of Woodstock men were aboard the Chapparal. Ross Young, 19, and Cameron King, 20, were underway when they struck the Bayliner, which was at the mouth of Kellogg Creek. Investigators have yet to determine whether the Bayliner was anchored or adrift, or whether either vessel had lights burning.
Sgt. Mike Barr, WRD law-enforcement officer for Region I, compared car accidents to boat accidents, saying drivers sometimes take their skills for granted. However, one difference is that calling an ambulance to the scene of a car wreck, and getting help on the water are very different things.
“When something happens on the water, you might be hours from help,” Mike said.
Mike urges that all boaters take a boater-safety course, and discussed some important things to remember when boating. Among his chief concerns, Mike said boaters should always have a sober operator, know the rules of navigating, have proper, working navigation lights for nighttime boat travel, and above all, wear a lifevest.
“It’s not enough to have it in the boat. Wear it,” Mike said. “I’ve pulled a lot of bodies out of the water, but I’ve never pulled one out that was wearing a lifevest.”
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