Report: Tubing company at fault in girl's drowning

The Gwinnett County company that rented tubing equipment to a 9-year-old girl and her family failed to warn the group of the Buford Dam's pending release or what to do in case of an emergency, according to a federal report released this week. Allsouth Tubing could face criminal charges in the girl's death.

Before Anna Van Horn and others in her group ever embarked on the ill-fated excursion June 3, Allsouth Tubing should have reviewed the dangers, as required by federal law that governs the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the U.S. National Parks Service report states.

Within minutes of entering the Chattahoochee River with two adults and three siblings, Van Horn, of Peachtree City, drowned after being swept downstream by the river's currents. She was still wearing her life jacket when she was pulled lifeless from the water about two hours later.

The group was "unaware of the scheduled water release that was to occur at 2:55 p.m. approximately 2.5 miles upstream," the report states. Van Horn's group entered the water around 3 p.m., investigators said. A witness called 911 at 3:32 p.m. to report the girl being swept away.

Firefighters from Gwinnett and Forsyth counties assisted with the rescue and pulled Van Horn from the water around 5:45 p.m. She was transported to Northside Forsyth Hospital, where she died.

Allsouth Tubing, also known as $10 River Tubing, has locations in Duluth and Sugar Hill, where the Van Horn group rented tubes. A recording at the tubing company's Sugar Hill office said the business has been closed. No one answered the phone at the Duluth office.

The park service interviewed numerous witnesses in its investigation of the incident before revoking the permit for Allsouth, Nancy Walther, spokeswoman for the National Park Service, told the AJC. The company was forced to close both locations, but recently re-applied and was granted a permit to re-open the Duluth location after being instructed to better educate customers on safety concerns, Walther said.

The federal report has now been sent to the U.S. Attorney's Office, where prosecutors will determine if criminal charges are warranted, Walthers said.

"We're continuing to try to seek the truth," Fred Beloin, the attorney for the Van Horn family, told the AJC. "We wish that the people at the tubing company were responsive and would come out and state what happened."

The Buford Dam releases water daily because the dam produces hydo-electric power for surrounding counties, Chris Lovelady, assistant operations manager at the lake, told the AJC.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers schedules water releases based on a variety of factors, Lovelady said. Communities need more power in the hotter parts of the day, making the afternoon a popular time for water releases, he said. Plus, most areas of metro Atlanta, as well as other communities, depend on the water.

Warning systems are in place to make river revelers aware of the dam's releases. In addition to sign, sirens sound when the dam releases. Further down the river, there are two options for those wanting to stay safe. Those in the area can tune in to radio station AM1610 or call 770-945-1466 to hear a message, recorded daily, explaining the day's dam release schedule.