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Putnam County man dies in boating accident on his 80th birthday

A Putnam County man fishing on Lake Sinclair in neighboring Baldwin County died Wednesday afternoon from injuries he sustained in a collision involving two boats, local and state authorities say.

The collision claimed the man’s life on his 80th birthday.

The victim was out fishing with a friend when the collision happened between 1:30 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. in the area of Airport Island and Bass Boat House, according to Sgt. Bubba Stanford, a state game warden with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division.

Baldwin County Deputy Coroner Ken Garland identified the victim who died as George Ralph Harper, of the 700 block of Madison Road, Eatonton.

Garland said life-saving measures, including CPR, were performed. Harper was later taken to the emergency department of Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin hospital in Milledgeville where he was pronounced dead at 2:44 p.m.

The deputy coroner said Harper died from multiple blunt force trauma.

The victim’s son, John, is a longtime deputy sergeant with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

A passenger in Harper’s boat, Sonny Poole, also of Eatonton, was not injured, Stanford told The Union-Recorder.

Stanford said Harper was thrown out of his 16-foot Lowe boat after it was struck by an 18-foot Phoenix bass boat operated by Richard Reed, 64, of Lizella. 

Reed was not injured.

The collision remains under investigation by the DNR’s Law Enforcement Critical Incident Reconstruction Team (CIRT), according to DNR Law Enforcement Public Affairs Officer Mark McKinnon.

A preliminary investigation conducted by game wardens determined that the operator of a vessel exited a cove and began to speed up, but was not going fast enough for the boat to plane, McKinnon said via email. 

“The bow was still high enough to obscure the operator’s vision. As a result, the operator didn’t see a fishing boat idling in close proximity.”

McKinnon said once the operator saw the fishing boat, he attempted to steer away but was unable to avoid a collision with the fishing boat.

Game wardens were assisted by deputies and detectives with the Baldwin and Putnam county sheriff’s offices, as well as Baldwin County Fire Rescue, Grady Emergency Medical Services and the Baldwin County Coroner’s Office. 

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