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The myth of deadly Lake Lanier: numbers show fluctuation, not upward trend, of deaths on water
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A 23-year-old Florida man went missing in this area near Three Sisters Island over the weekend after falling off a pontoon boat and never resurfacing. Though there may be a myth of deaths on Lake Lanier increasing over time, numbers instead show fluctuations. - photo by Jim Dean

Lake Lanier is touted as an oasis set in the center of a busy, fast-growing metro region, a place to escape the pavement and cool off on the water.

But it also, to locals, has become associated with a myth that the man-made body of water has seen an increase in drownings and fatal boat accidents.

While cold temperatures flowing through the Buford Dam and debris settled on the lake floor may contribute to some drownings, Georgia Department of Natural Resources numbers do not show a steady increase in water-related deaths on Lanier in recent years.

Though Lanier was the deadliest lake of the eight the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division covers, totals have fluctuated throughout the years.

With 2016 entering August, there have been seven fatalities on the lake stemming from a total of 23 boating incidents, according to the DNR.

That number does not include drownings, a total for which the DNR does not yet have, said Lt. Judd Smith, a spokesman for the DNR Law Enforcement Division.

“We do track them, but there is no statutory requirement that we do,” Smith said.

Most recently, search efforts remain under way days later for Kevin Theodore Husum, a 23-year-old from Panama City, Florida, after he fell off a pontoon boat near Three Sisters Island in Forsyth, went under water and did not resurface.

Waters in the search area range between 40 and 80 feet deep, according to the DNR.

Lake Lanier depths reach about 200 feet at the dam.

In 2015, a total of two fatalities resulted from 31 boating incidents and 15 injuries.

Seven people drowned in the lake last year.

There were also 70 citations issued for boating under the influence last year.

These numbers appear to be complete, though other agencies do dispatch units on the lake.

“Hall and Forsyth counties both patrol the lake and will assist us with big incidents, but they would turn any serious ones over to us,” Smith said.

In the last six years, 2011 and 2014 were the deadliest years for drownings (10), and 2011 also had the most fatalities (7).

Since 1994, which is how far back DNR boating statistics go, 1999 saw the most drownings (11). However, drowning statistics were not listed for 1994-98.

That year also recorded eight fatalities, 52 injuries and 72 boating incidents, the most since 1994.

With almost five full months remaining in the year, 2016’s 70 BUIs is approaching the record since statistics began being listed in 1999 of 77 citations.