On the shore of Lake Lanier at Mary Alice Park, just miles from the location where a body of a drowned boater was discovered Monday night, law enforcement and public safety agencies from the four counties bordering Lake Lanier met on Tuesday morning to kick off the upcoming holiday weekend with a united message of safety.
Over the next days, thousands of people are expected to visit Lake Lanier in Forsyth, Hall, Dawson and Gwinnett counties. With the 2019 lake death toll now at nine, authorities are anxious to impress on the public the importance of caution when venturing out on to road and waterways this July Fourth holiday.
We would like to keep it at nine [deaths on Lake Lanier] and not go any further,” Bridgette Butynski, Senior Fire Prevention Training Officer for the Forsyth County Fire Department, said on Tuesday. “We want people to understand what they can do to be water safe and be safe on the roads."
Together, Butynski said that the 15 gathered law enforcement and public safety agencies from the four-county area are part of the Lake Lanier Water Safety Task Force that meets yearly and coordinates safety and protection efforts in areas surrounding the lake.
Agencies of the task force include fire and law enforcement from each of the different counties, as well as the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia State Patrol, city of Cumming Police and others.
Butynski said that because each of the agencies specializes in different areas, they work together to reach a larger audience with a more impactful message.
"It's nice to see all the agencies working together. We always work together, but the citizens don’t normally see that,” she said.
At Mary Alice Park on Tuesday morning, members from each of the different agencies took turns speaking to members of the media on various topics surrounding lake safety.
After a representative from the Gwinnett County Fire Department talked about the importance of learning CPR, spokesmen from the Hall County Fire Department and United States Coast Guard spoke about how life jackets should be used while swimming or boating on the lake.
"It's simple, life jackets save lives," said Mark Arnold, Deputy Chief of Operations for the Hall County Fire Department. "Year after year a review of recreational boating accidents shows an overwhelming majority of victims in boating fatalities in which drowning is the primary cause of death were not wearing a life jacket."
Several representatives from the Hall County Sheriff's Office, Forsyth County Sheriff's Office and Department of Natural Resources spent their time talking about the "rules of the road" for boating on Lake Lanier.
According to them, during the holiday weekend Lake Lanier will have a heavy presence of law enforcement officers on the lookout for situations that could impact boater safety, like violation of boating laws or boaters under the influence.
Sgt. Lee Brown of the Department of Natural Resources said that when it comes to the use of drugs or alcohol, boating laws mirror driving laws and can carry heavy penalties.
"Anyone over the age of 21, the legal [blood alcohol] limit is .08," Brown said. "We do recommend that every boater have a safe operator that has not been drinking."
Two representatives from the Gwinnett County Police Department and Georgia State Patrol talked about the importance of safe and sober driving while using roadways around Lake Lanier.
Lt. Stephanie Stallings of the Georgia State Patrol stated that over the previous year's Fourth of July holiday, their troopers investigated 150 traffic crashes, including two fatal wrecks, and issued over 6,300 traffic citations in a 30-hour period. Stallings said that can be avoided by following the rules of the road and utilizing ride share services when alcohol is involved.
Stallings said that because impaired boaters often become impaired drivers, and vice versa, it is their duty to take as many violators off the road and waterways as they can.
"We're often asked as law enforcement officers, 'Can I just get a warning, can you just give me a warning?' Well, the warnings are being given out today," Stallings said. "If you get pulled over by a state trooper this weekend you should expect a citation."
At the conclusion of the safety “media blitz,” Butynski said that people can learn more about safety on the lake by contacting their local public safety office. Though this safety push was targeted for the upcoming holiday weekend at Lake Lanier, the messages stand true no matter what the situation is.
"They are also for your home, your daily life,” she said. “The unfortunate realization is that we need to get this message out about being water safe across the board."