Details of accidental golf death revealed

A coroner’s report has revealed the circumstances behind the 2018 death of a Queenstown man who was hit by a golfball.

Jaden Lawrence Goldfinch, a 28-year-old builder, died from a traumatic brain injury in Dunedin Hospital four days after he was accidentally hit in the temple by a ball struck by a friend.

Coroner Sue Johnson released her findings into his death yesterday.

On February 17, 2018, Mr Goldfinch was at the Frankton Golf Centre with his girlfriend and others to celebrate a friend’s birthday, Ms Johnson said.

He was among a group of about 15 people carrying beer in chilly bins as they began playing the nine-hole course.

About 2pm, on the second hole, he was one of four players who hit their first shots towards trees to the right of the fairway. Behind the trees was a netting fence enclosing the driving range.

One of the four, Caleb Wilson, told police they walked to the trees to look for their golfballs.

Mr Goldfinch was 10m-15m ahead, between the trees and the fence.

A member of the larger group of friends moving down the fairway, Ashley King, told police he saw a stray ball from the driving range near him, and decided to hit it over to the fence.

"I made sure that the other three mates had my attention, so they were looking at me when I went to hit the ball over them."

Mr Wilson told police he saw Mr King hit the ball from a spot about 25m away from where he and two others were standing.

"I thought it could go anywhere, so I instinctively covered my head with my arms and turned away."

The ball curved towards a tree just as Mr Goldfinch walked out from behind it. It hit him on the side of the head and he dropped to the ground.

Several of the group ran to Mr Goldfinch, who "sat up and was talking", but was bleeding from a cut on the left side of his head, Ms Johnson said.

He was helped to Mr King’s car, and Mr King drove him, his girlfriend and another friend to Lakes District Hospital.

Jaden Goldfinch. Photo: supplied
Jaden Goldfinch died at Dunedin Hospital four days after being struck by a golf ball in February 2018. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
During the five-minute trip, Mr Goldfinch was "screaming and clutching his head", then began losing consciousness.

He started having a seizure as he was being taken inside.

After initial treatment, the duty doctor assessed him as having a severe traumatic brain injury and needing intensive care.

A retrieval team from Dunedin Hospital arrived about 4.10pm, and Mr Goldfinch was placed in a helicopter about 5pm, arriving at Dunedin Hospital an hour later.

A CT scan showed brain injuries including a haematoma (pool of blood) between his brain and the dura, the brain’s outermost covering, caused by the rupture of an artery.

He immediately underwent surgery to remove a portion of the skull to ease the pressure on his brain, and to allow the removal of the haematoma.

Despite receiving "maximal active treatment" in ICU over the next four days, he died at 5pm on February 21.

A police investigation on behalf of the coroner found "no criminal liability or suspicious circumstances" surrounding his death.

Ms Johnson said she could not draw any conclusions about the extent to which Mr King’s judgement was affected by alcohol.

It was clear he intended to hit the ball over the three players he could see, but also "entirely foreseeable" the ball might go in a different direction.

"I therefore find that Ashley was partly responsible for Jaden’s death by his deliberate action in hitting the ball in the direction of three people, with no regard for whether it might not go where he intended it and hit someone."

However, Mr Goldfinch also contributed to his own death, she said.

"By going behind a tree so that he could not see what was happening on the fairway, and then suddenly coming out from behind that tree, his risk of being hit by any stray ball increased.

"I therefore find that Jaden was partly instrumental in his own death ... although it was nowhere near as significant a contribution as I have found Ashley’s to be."

The coroner could not make any comments or recommendations about the risks of consuming alcohol while golfing, because neither Mr King nor Mr Goldfinch’s level of alcohol at the time of the accident was tested, so she had no evidence it was a factor.

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