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Prisoner Crashes Jet Ski into Dock in Camden County, Georgia

On September 16, 2006, a Camden County, Georgia jail prisoner crashed a Sheriff?s Department jet ski into a private dock at Harriet?s Bluff on the Crooked River.

According to Sheriff Bill Smith, jail trustees were moving the jet skis from a private dock to a trailer at a public boat ramp when prisoner Anthony Van Lewis, 34, tried to turn between two docks. The inexperienced Van Lewis panicked and struck the dock, breaking his hip and leg. Jail trustees Carl Jason Hawkins, 25, and Daniel Murrell, 49, were also involved in moving the jet skis.

The sheriff was unable to explain the accident, saying only that he called the jail and ?asked them to get the skis out of the water? without specifying how that was to be accomplished. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources investigated and ruled the crash an accident caused by ?rider inexperience.? The Sheriff?s Department declined to comment on why the prisoners were unsupervised due to an ongoing investigation into the incident.

When the Camden County Commission questioned Sheriff Smith about the crash he went on the offensive, claiming the commissioners did not give him sufficient resources to operate without using prisoners in a work program. He threatened to cancel the trustee program but the county commissioners were opposed to that idea. The Sheriff convinced the commission to provide funding to hire 11 new deputies.

The increased staffing at the jail apparently failed to solve problems with the trustee program, however. In April 2007, jail trustee Robert Thad Bryant III, 23, used a key he found while cleaning the desk of a Sheriff?s Dept. employee to open a storage unit that contained $8,000 in cash and a Sony Playstation being held in a drug-related case. He then used the cash to arrange a bond to secure his release from jail.

?After the jet ski incident, I was told this would never happen again when I voted to add extra personnel for the jail,? said Camden County Commissioner Steve Berry. ?Clearly, extra people was not the answer.?

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