The Memorial Day weekend was deadly on Georgia roads and waterways, where alcohol and speed were among the factors turning outings into tragedies.
Wrecks involving vehicles, boats and water claimed at least 20 lives over the three-day weekend, according to investigators.
A deadly boat crash Saturday morning killed five people, including four members of one Georgia family who had recently moved to Savannah from North Fulton.
Chris Leffler, 51, his wife Lori, 50, and sons Zack, 23, and Nate, 17, died when their boat collided with another boat, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Katie Leffler, a college student, survived the crash, along with a friend on her family’s boat.
A man on the second boat, 37-year-old Robert Chauncey, was also killed, investigators said. That boat’s driver, 45-year-old Mark Stegall, was arrested and charged with boating under the influence. The investigation into the crash could last six to eight weeks, according to a DNR spokesman. Statewide, a total of 40 people were cited over the weekend for boating under the influence, the DNR said.
Before moving to Savannah, Chris Leffler taught at King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, where his children attended, according to Edward Spurka, head of the school.
“It took the wind out of our entire community,” Spurka told Channel 2 Action News. “He loved our school. He loved our kids. He was a father figure to every student.”
The Lefflers had quickly settled in with their new school community at Calvary Day School, according to the head of the Savannah school
“We love the Leffler family and our hearts are broken,” Hunter Chadwick said. “I want to thank all of the first responders and everyone who continues to pray for the Calvary community and the Leffler family. Everyone that knows them has seen faith in action. Chris, Lori, Zack and Nate were loved by so many and will be missed dearly.”
Fundraisers were created to benefit Katie Leffler and a vigil was planned for Tuesday night in Alpharetta.
In north Georgia, a 5-year-old who recently finished kindergarten and a 20-year-old man drowned in separate incidents on Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier, according to investigators.
Kaiden Franklin, who lived in Calhoun and attended Model Elementary School, was playing on a float when he was reported missing Saturday afternoon in Bartow County. The boy’s body was found about two hours later, according to the state DNR.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources responded to the incident around 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We love you always precious Kaiden!” a Model Elementary social media post stated.
At Lake Lanier, a man drowned Sunday afternoon while swimming at the Margaritaville water park, according to the DNR. He was identified Tuesday as Jose Camarillo, 20, of Stone Mountain.
Sunday night, a man drowned in middle Georgia after jumping approximately 20 feet from a tree hanging over the Ocmulgee River in Wilcox County and did not resurface, according to the DNR. The body of the man, whose name was not released pending notification of family members, was found a short time later.
Despite rising gas prices, experts predicted even more travelers would use the holiday weekend for road trips than in previous years. By 6 p.m. Monday, 12 people had been killed in crashes around the state, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
Investigators were still gathering details on vehicle wrecks Tuesday. State troopers from various posts investigated deadly wrecks, including Newnan, Toccoa, Dalton, Americus, Waycross, Athens and Grovetown, the DPS reported.
The Gwinnett County police department, Fayetteville police and Bibb County Sheriff’s Office also investigated deadly wrecks. Monday night, 52-year-old Audrey Mack was struck and killed by a vehicle as she walked along a Macon street, according to police.
In 2021, 20 people were killed on Georgia roads during the Memorial Day weekend holiday, according to the Georgia State Patrol. At least 16 were killed over the Labor Day weekend in September, the State Patrol previously reported.