By MONICA L. BURGE
A 49-year-old Eatonton was arrested Thursday in connection with a fatal boat accident.
Mark Howard Entrekin was arrested and charged with homicide by vessel, reckless operation and failure to render aid after fleeing the scene of a boat accident on Lake Sinclair Saturday that killed 48-year-old James Mark Baxter. Investigators said more charges could be added.
“It’s been a very active investigation,” Sheriff Bill Massee said . “We started with no evidence and really worked it as a criminal case. It was good police work ... The straw that really stirred this drink was the public and the media coverage.”
Massee said a tip led investigators to Entrekin, who admitted being the driver of a Gruman deck boat that struck the pontoon boat Baxter, his wife, Sandra, and their daughter, Laura Hoeft, were riding in on the lake’s main channel, near the entrance to Reddy Creek. During an interview Entrekin expressed remorse for the accident.
“He is very sorry that this accident occurred and expressed sympathy not only to the family, but to everyone involved,” Massee said.
Entrekin’s boat, showing visible damage, was recovered from his Steele Bridge residence and will be analyzed by the Department of Natural Resources and possibly the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab, Massee said.
According to an incident report from the sheriff’s office, Hoeft told deputies she saw Entrekin’s deck boat “speeding” toward them and yelled for the boat to change course, but it struck her family’s boat head on. The report stated the driver stopped momentarily and then left the scene at “a high rate of speed” toward the Highway 441 bridge.
Entrekin told investigators that he was not driving more than 30 mph and left the scene because he was “scared,” said Cpl. Doug Bridges, with DNR.
It has not been determined if alcohol played a role in the accident, but Entrekin did admit he drank beer earlier the same day of the accident and alcohol was found at the scene.
“There was certainly alcohol on the boat. We’ve established that,” Bridges said. “Now whether he was intoxicated, we’ll never know.”
Bridges also credited the public and the media for the rapid progression of the investigation and said the willingness of the Baxter family to make a public plea through the media was “crucial.”
“We had other evidence that I believe would have led us here in time, but this certainly speeds things up and got us on the right track,” Bridges said.
Three other people, a man and two women, were also in the boat with Entrekin, and Bridges said they have been questioned regarding the incident. Future charges against them are “possible.”
“If they would have come forward at the beginning, maybe not, but for waiting this long, more charges are possible,” Bridges said.
Baxter’s death was the first on Lake Sinclair in five years, Massee said.
Monica L. Burge can be reached at (478) 453-1453 or by e-mail at email@example.com
By MONICA L. BURGE