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Report critical of tubing company
Girl, 9, drowned in swift river current
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Forsyth County News

It appears a Gwinnett County outfitter may be to blame for the drowning last month of a 9-year-old girl in the Chattahoochee River.

According to a report released last week by the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, an investigation revealed that Allsouth Tubing, or $10 River Tubing, in Sugar Hill failed June 3 to inform a busload of tubers about water releases on the river, as required by federal law.

That group included Anna Van Horn of Peachtree City, who drowned in the river later that afternoon.

Forsyth and Gwinnett County firefighters found her in about 7 feet of water behind homes on River Cliff Court off James Burgess Boulevard.

Van Horn, who was still wearing a safety vest, was taken to Northside Hospital-Forsyth, where efforts to revive her failed.

A message posted on Allsouth’s Web site Friday showed the Sugar Hill location was closed.

Water is released from the dam every day along that stretch of the Chattahoochee, which separates Forsyth and Gwinnett counties.

Patty Wissinger, superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, has said the state considers the 2.7-mile stretch of river from Buford Dam to Hwy. 20 as hazardous waters.

She said it takes water about 45 minutes to travel from the dam to the Hwy. 20 bridge, which is about half a mile north of where Van Horn was found.

Attempts to reach Wissinger for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

The tubing company could face criminal charges, though that has yet to be determined.

According to the federal report, Van Horn and the group arrived at their put-in area about 2:15 p.m. and "were unaware of the scheduled water release that was to occur at 2:55 p.m. approximately 2.5 miles upstream."

"It is also believed that an adequate safety message regarding topics such a hypothermia, what to do if capsized, use of personal flotation devices and other general water safety issues were not addressed to the group by Allsouth Tubing during the prep period prior to launch, at the outpost or at any other relevant time."

The report goes on to note that the group entered the river sometime between 2:30 and 3 p.m., with VanHorn and the others wearing safety vests and floating in individual tubes.

The report shows that sirens sounded shortly after they entered the water, but were dismissed by some as fire or police sirens. In reality, they were warnings of a pending release of water from Buford Dam.

Two groups that did get out of the water for about 10 minutes noticed when they re-entered that the river’s flow had increased. Another group was slightly ahead of them.

According to the report, Vanhorn became entangled in a tree that was partially under water and protruding from the west bank of the river near River Cliff Court.

"While entangled she capsized from her tube and briefly held onto the tree," the report shows. It goes on to say that others shouted for her to get back in her tube and she eventually was swept downstream.

"Vanhorn became entangled in a second tree and was overtaken by the increasing flow of water, which is where she is believed to have drowned," according to the report.