Man Dies on His 80th Birthday Fishing Trip After Boat Crash on Ga. Lake: 'Devastated'

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George Ralph Harper
George Ralph Harper

Facebook George "Ralph" Harper

A Georgia fisherman tragically died doing what he loved after he was involved in a boating accident on his 80th birthday, according to officials.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Division confirms the incident in a statement to PEOPLE, identifying the victim as George Ralph Harper, of Eatonton.

DNR officials say game wardens were alerted of the incident on Lake Sinclair in Baldwin County around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Located about 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, Lake Sinclair "encompasses 15,300 acres of winding coves and several vast stretches of open water," according to its website. The lake is often used for fishing, tournaments, swimming, boating and camping, per their site.

Authorities found the victim — who went by Ralph, according to his obituary — "unconscious and not breathing" after his fishing boat had been struck by another vessel, officials say.

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It was later determined that an unidentified operator of the vessel had exited a cove and was speeding up when he accidentally struck Ralph's stationary fishing boat, according to the statement.

"The operator ... began to speed up but was not yet going fast enough for the boat to plane, so the bow was still high enough to obscure the operator's vision," the statement reads. "As a result, the operator didn't see a fishing boat idling in close proximity."

Though the operator attempted to steer away from Ralph's boat, he was unsuccessful in his efforts, per the statement.

"CPR was performed but the passenger succumbed to the injuries and was later pronounced dead," officials with the Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division say.

Citing the Baldwin County Coroner's Office, The News & Observer reported that Ralph's cause of death was due to blunt-force trauma. A spokesperson for the Baldwin County Coroner's Office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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The DNR Law Enforcement Critical Incident Reconstruction Team (CIRT) is currently investigating the incident, per their statement. It is unclear if any charges will be filed.

Following the tragic news, Ralph's son, Richard Harper, who is currently running for Braselton Town Council, spoke out on Facebook.

"My father, Ralph Harper, was involved in a boating accident and lost his life on 10-27-21, his 80th birthday," Richard wrote. "My family and I are devastated and we are doing the best we can to deal with this unthinkable tragedy."

"Thank you to all who have reached out... it is greatly appreciated," he continued. "Understandably, I will not be attending any campaign functions this week due to these unforeseen circumstances. Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time."

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According to Ralph's obituary, he was born and raised in Eatonton, where he spent his years fishing, hunting, cooking and gardening.

The Georgia resident also enjoyed making wood-handled knives and spending time with his "loving family," including his wife of 57 years, Joyce, his two sons, his two siblings and his eight grandkids, per his obit.