Eleven die on Georgia roadways over the Independence Day holiday period

One boater loses his life Sunday after his boat capsizes off Little Tybee Island

ATLANTA — Eleven people perished on Georgia roadways over the long Independence Day holiday weekend, officials with the Georgia Department of Public Safety reported today.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, meanwhile, reported that there was one boating fatality but no drownings on the state’s waterways during the holiday weekend. There were 11 boating incidents over the weekend with 10 injuries.

The holiday period began at 6 p.m. Thursday and ended midnight Sunday.

The highway death toll was the same as the death count Georgia experienced during last year’s Fourth of July holiday, which fell on a Thursday. The 2013 Independence Day holiday period was one day longer, beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday (July 3) and ending at midnight Sunday (July 7).

Of the state’s 11 traffic fatalities this year, none were in the metro Albany area. Four fatal wrecks were worked by the Georgia State Patrol, while seven were worked by local-level law enforcement agencies. Last year, troopers investigated five of the state’s 11 fatality cases.

Troopers investigated fatalities out of posts in Cordele, Calhoun, Villa Rica and Sylvania.

Local law enforcement investigated fatal wrecks in Warner Robins, Gwinnett County, Cobb County and four in DeKalb County.

In the 102-hour holiday period last year, troopers investigated 1,150 traffic crashes that resulted in 564 injuries in addition to the five fatalities. Additionally, troopers issued 9,849 citations, 18,477 warnings, and made 359 DUI arrests.

Numbers for those categories are not yet available for the just-completed 78-hour Fourth of July holiday period.

DNR officials said rangers worked two serious boating accidents over the holiday, including one with a death.

“We are very pleased that we had zero drownings statewide,” DNR Public Information Officer Mark McKinnon said. “Our rangers will continue to patrol and educate the public on boating and water safety throughout the summer. They will also continue to inform boaters of the requirements under the new boater education law.”

The lone boating fatality occurred Sunday morning off Little Tybee Island, where McKinnon said a couple had been camping on a small hammock over the weekend. While coming off the island, the boat, powered by a 40 hp motor, grounded on a sandbar and was eventually freed.

DNR reports stated, however, that a wave hit the skiff-style boat, swamping it, followed by another wave that capsized the vessel. The 52-year-old man drowned and his body was recovered. The woman was airlifted by the Coast Guard to a hospital, but had no apparent injuries, DNR officials said. The death is officially listed as a boating fatality instead of a drowning because the man entered the water from a vessel that was not moored.

The other major boating incident occurred about 11:30 p.m. Saturday on Lake Allatoona immediately after a yacht club’s fireworks display ended. DNR Law Enforcement responded to a boat crash near the mouth of Illinois Creek at Allatoona Lake in Bartow County.

DNR rangers who had been patrolling the fireworks, responded within minutes and found a Maxum cabin cruiser with five injured people, including a 4-month-old child. DNR immediately transported them to the nearest boat ramp for medical attention. The injuries were non-life threatening and all were taken to Cartersville Medical Center.

Witnesses told rangers that a Chaparral ski boat was attempting to overtake the Maxum cabin cruiser from behind, hit the cabin cruiser from the rear and went up and over the boat, causing significant damage to the vessel. The operator of the cabin cruiser sustained the most injuries. There was only one minor injury to the four people in the ski boat.

The operator of the ski boat was found to be impaired and was arrested. Joseph S. Tofil, of Canton, was charged with boating under the influence (BUI).

That was one of 36 BUIs statewide for the Independence Day weekend. DNR worked 11 boating incidents with a total of 10 injuries. Alcohol was involved in two of the incidents.