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Authorities keep watch on water, roads
Forsyth County Sheriffs Deputy Chris Shelton gets ready to patrol Lake Lanier near Mary Alice Park. Officials are reminding lake-goers to use caution and common sense this Fourth of July weekend. - photo by Autumn McBride

While some are having fun on land and water this Fourth of July, others will be making sure they’re doing so safely.

"We’re going to have a lot of officers working this weekend to make sure the public has a good weekend, but also that they are safe and comply with laws regarding speed, child restraints and alcohol," Sheriff’s Capt. Tim House said.

House added that deputies will also help out with the 54th Annual Thomas-Mashburn Steam Engine Parade on Monday morning in Cumming.

As for the rest of the long holiday weekend, members of the sheriff’s special operations unit — including marine, equestrian and motorcycle teams — will be on Lake Lanier, in parks and elsewhere watching for excessive holiday revelry.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Shelton said the marine unit, which includes a boat and personal water crafts, will patrol Lanier’s shoreline.

"Our main focus is the parks, swimming areas and campgrounds," said Shelton, adding that deputies will check boaters along the lake to ensure they are obeying laws.

Authorities will also be watching for lake-goers who may have had too much alcohol.

Shelton said those planning on swimming in the lake should remember that its drop-offs are unpredictable and not to go past the buoys that designate swimming areas.

For example, the water can be 30 feet deep just 15 feet from the shore at West Bank Park.

He said deputies on the water often find themselves helping swimmers who have underestimated the distance between two shores.

"They don’t realize how far it is until they get halfway through it," he said.

At least three people have drowned in Lake Lanier this year, including one man last weekend at Buford Dam Park in Gwinnett County.

Last month, a 9-year-old girl drowned while tubing on the Chattahoochee River in Forsyth County.

The holiday festivities peak Monday with the celebration of Independence Day, though many are expected to celebrate all weekend long.

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the state’s lakes and waterways are expected to be busy throughout the 78-hour holiday period.

A DNR report released this week shows that so far in the state, there have been 48 boating incidents resulting in 16 injuries and seven deaths.

In addition, conservation rangers have issued 79 citations for boating under the influence statewide.

"It is easy to get caught up in the casual spirit of being out on the lake and having a great time, but let us provide a special message to the boat operator," said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, the DNR’s assistant chief of law enforcement.

"Don’t allow interest in having a great time deter you from your responsibility of being vigilant for the safety of your passengers and for others on the water. These people are in your hands and we want you to take that seriously."

The holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. today and continues until midnight Monday.

Local and state authorities will be participating in the national Operation Zero Tolerance initiative throughout the holiday weekend.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, the program is designed to keep impaired drivers off the road.

Authorities are expected to conduct safety checks and concentrated patrols in the county and throughout the state.

They will be watching not only for impaired drivers, but also those driving over the speed limit and not wearing safety belts.

For July Fourth 2010, the state Department of Transportation reported 1,829 wrecks, which resulted in 834 injuries, and 11 others in which someone died.

State troopers handled nine fatal wrecks and 209 injuries in crashes they investigated over the last Independence Day holiday weekend.

Two of the fatal wrecks were alcohol-related and three of those who died were not wearing seat belts, according to the state patrol.