Man 'partly responsible' for mate's death at golf

Jaden Goldfinch died at Dunedin Hospital four days after being struck by a golf ball in February...
Jaden Goldfinch died at Dunedin Hospital four days after being struck by a golf ball in February 2018. Photo: supplied
Ashley King intended to hit a stray golf ball over the heads of three of his mates, back to a driving range at Queenstown’s Frankton Golf Centre in 2018.

Instead, he sliced the ball and it hit a fourth, Jaden Lawrence Goldfinch, as he walked out from behind a tree beside the fairway on February 17.

The 27-year-old Queenstown builder died four days later in Dunedin Hospital.

Coroner Sue Johnson said the group of 15, at the nine-hole golf course celebrating a friend’s birthday, had been drinking - most were on their second or third beer by the second hole.

Mr Goldfinch was one of four who sent his first ball towards a stand of trees, right of the fairway on the second hole, behind which was the driving range.

They walked over to the trees to look for the balls, while taking care not to walk in front of the other group, which included Mr King, progressing down the fairway for their second shots.

Mr Goldfinch separated from the three others, and was about 15 metres ahead, between trees.

On the fairway, Mr King said he saw a yellow golf ball, which had originated from the driving range, near him.

‘‘It was not his ball, but he stated that he ‘went up to it’ and ‘planned to hit it upwards to the net’.’’

He stated he made sure his ‘‘other three mates’’ - near the front of the stand of trees - had his attention, so they were looking at him when he hit the ball over to them.

One, Caleb Wilson, said he saw Mr King ‘‘take a swing at the ball from the middle of the fairway’’.

‘‘When he hit the ball, I thought it could go anywhere, so I instinctively covered my head with my arms and turned away.’’

Instead of going over the heads of Mr Wilson and the two other friends he was with, Mr King’s ball went left and curved towards a tree, just as he saw Mr Goldfinch walk out from behind it.

‘‘Ashley saw the ball hit Jaden on the side of his head and saw Jaden drop to the ground,’’ Ms Johnson said.

The group of 15 were celebrating a birthday by playing a round of golf at Frankton Golf Course....
The group of 15 were celebrating a birthday by playing a round of golf at Frankton Golf Course. Photo: ODT files

By the time other members of the group got to him, Mr Goldfinch was sitting up and talking, but bleeding from a cut on the left side of his head.

He was ‘‘repeatedly asking what had happened, but not remembering what he was told’’.

Mr King drove Mr Goldfinch, and others, to Lakes District Hospital.

Mr Goldfinch was initially screaming and clutching his head before he started to drift in and out of consciousness. He began having a seizure as he was being taken inside the hospital.

Dr Jennifer Keys admitted Mr Goldfinch at 2.38pm and during an examination noted his left pupil was ‘‘very large and irregular’’ and his right pupil was small.

Her impression was he had a severe traumatic brain injury and needed to be treated in an intensive care unit.

At 3.10pm, in consultation by video link with an ICU consultant at Dunedin Hospital, Dr Keys intubated Mr Goldfinch and connected him to a ventilator.

He was transferred by helicopter to Dunedin Hospital, arriving at 6pm, and taken for a CT scan of his head.

Ms Johnson said that showed a large, acute subdural haemorrhage with formation of a pool of blood between the brain the the dura, the brain’s outermost covering.

That was due to a rupture of an artery, consistent with the impact from the golf ball.

He immediately underwent surgery to ease pressure on his brain and remove the haematoma.

‘‘Despite being given maximal active treatment over the following four days, Jaden died at 5pm on 21 February, 2018.’’

Ms Johnson said the first time police were aware of the incident was when they were called to attend Dunedin Hospital after the death - initial paperwork provided by police showed they were told Mr King hit the golf ball that struck Mr Goldfinch’s head, but not that he had been drinking.

Neither Mr King nor Mr Goldfinch underwent blood alcohol tests.

‘‘It is therefore impossible to know the concentration of alcohol in Ashley’s system at the time  he made the decision to hit the golf ball hit Jaden.

‘‘Mere speculation is insufficient for the purpose of a coroner’s inquiry, and I therefore draw no conclusion as to whether and what extent Ashley’s judgement might have been affected by the beer he had consumed.

‘‘Equally, I draw no conclusion about the extent to which Jaden’s judgement might have been affected by any alcohol he had consumed before he walked out from behind a tree at the side of a fairway on a golf course.’’

Ms Johnson said it was clear Mr King intended to aim the ball in the direction of his friends near the driving range, and even though he did not intend to hit them with it, ‘‘it is entirely foreseeable that the ball could have hit one of them’’.

The ball followed a different trajectory from that intended due to the way Mr King sliced it.

That, too, was ‘‘entirely foreseeable’’, Ms Johnson said.

‘‘I therefore find 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.

‘‘I am satisfied that Ashley's action contributed to Jaden’s death.’’

Ms Johnson said when Mr Goldfinch moved behind the tree while looking for his ball, he could not see what was happening on the fairway.

‘‘Jaden was already risking being hit by a ball by being at the side of the fairway, forward of players on it. 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 Jaden was partly instrumental in his own death and therefore contributed to it, although it was nowhere near as significant a contribution as I have found Ashley’s to be.’’ 


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