Taranaki’s Jaden Goldfinch was hit in the head by a golf ball.

Details have emerged of the tragic death of a Queenstown builder who was hit in the head by a golf ball while at a driving range with his friends.

Jaden Lawrence Goldfinch, 27, died in February 2018 – four days after suffering a serious head injury at the Frankton Golf Centre.

Coroner Sue Johnson today released her findings after an inquest into Goldfinch’s death.

She ruled he died of head trauma, after being hit in the left temple by a flying golf ball.

In his findings, Coroner Johnson outlined all the details of Goldfinch’s death.

Jaden Goldfinch.  Photo / Provided
Jaden Goldfinch. Photo / Provided

On the afternoon of February 17, 2018, Goldfinch was at the golf center with his partner and others to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

The group paid to play nine holes of golf and had brought their own beers, which they carried in cold tubs.

“There were about 15 playing, so before they started on the first hole they discussed how they had to be careful where they hit the ball and where they stood,” Coroner Johnson said.

“They played the first hole and then moved on to the second. By then the group had consumed a few beers.”

Goldfinch and three others played their shots in a row of trees and walked towards them.

Coroner Johnson said they were “taking care not to walk in front of others moving up the fairway”.

As the four searched for the balls, Ashley King – another member of the group – teeed off and then raced up the fairway to his ball.

He fell on a yellow golf ball from the driving range near him.

He decided to hit it away from the fairway.

“I made sure the other three buddies had my attention, so they were watching me when I went to hit the ball over them,” King told police.

One of the men in the trees saw King “take a swing” and hit the ball towards them.

“When he hit the ball I thought it could go anywhere so I instinctively covered my head with my arms and turned away,” the man told police.

Instead of going over their heads, the ball “went left and curved towards a tree”.

At that moment, Goldfinch came out from behind the tree and the bullet hit him in the side of the head.

His comrades saw him fall to the ground.

Goldfinch’s girlfriend and a few buddies ran up to him.

Coroner Johnson said at the time he “sat and talked”.

He was bleeding from a cut on the left side of his head and his partner’s friend put ice from a cold bin on the wound.

“Jaden repeatedly asked what happened but could not remember what he was told,” Coroner Johnson said.

Goldfinch was helped into a car and taken to the Lakes District Hospital emergency department.

“At first Jaden was screaming and holding his head. He then started to lose consciousness and lose consciousness,” Coroner Johnson said.

“(His partner) tried to keep him awake by rubbing his arms.

“They arrived at the hospital within five minutes and Jaden started having a seizure as he was taken inside.”

Goldfinch was admitted to hospital and the doctor on duty found that he had severe head trauma and needed to be treated in an intensive care unit.

After consulting an intensive care consultant at Dunedin Hospital, the doctor intubated Goldfinch and put him on a ventilator.

He was given medication to reduce the high pressure inside his skull, to manage his restlessness and both to put him to sleep and to relax his muscles.

He was later transferred to Dunedin Hospital by helicopter and admitted to intensive care under the care of a neurosurgeon.

Goldfinch underwent a CT scan which showed brain damage, including a large acute subdural hemorrhage with the formation of a pool of blood that was between his brain and the dura mater, the outermost covering of the brain.

The neurosurgeon reported that this was due to a ruptured artery and was consistent with golf ball impact.

“Jaden was taken straight to the operating room where he underwent a decompression craniectomy in which part of the skull bone is removed to relieve pressure on the brain,” coroner Johnson said.

“It also allowed access to the brain so that the hematoma could be removed.

“Jaden was then taken to intensive care. Both of his pupils were dilated and unresponsive to light.

“Despite receiving maximum active treatment over the next four days, Jaden died at 5 p.m. on February 21, 2018.”

Coroner Johnson said while the cause of Goldfinch’s death was clear it “required further investigation”.

Police provided her with a detailed death report and said they were satisfied there was no criminal responsibility or suspicious circumstances surrounding Goldfinch’s death.

She said authorities were not told the group was drinking alcohol at the time of the incident – until Goldfinch died.

This meant that it was “therefore impossible” to know whether or to what extent Goldfinch’s or King’s judgment had been affected at the time.

Coroner Johnson said his role was not to find fault but to establish the facts of Goldfinch’s death.

However, she could comment on “any person’s conduct in relation to the circumstances of the death”.

By doing so, she was able to determine if how King contributed to Goldfinch’s death.

“It is clear from the evidence that Ashley actually intended to return the ball to the driving range on (the group in the trees),” she said.

“So he intended to direct the ball in their direction even though he didn’t intend to hit them with it.

“But it’s quite predictable that the ball could have hit one of them.

“It’s also quite predictable that bullets don’t always travel
straight as expected; an unintended slice – as has happened – can send a ball flying in an entirely different direction.

“I therefore conclude that Ashley was partly responsible for the death of Jaden by his deliberate action in hitting the ball in the direction of three people, without caring whether it would not go where he wanted it and hit somebody.

“I am convinced that Ashley’s action contributed to Jaden’s death.”

Coroner Johnson said three of the group who entered the trees “took care” not to walk in front of the others who were progressing downwards.

“But Jaden walked past them and then went behind a tree. By doing that he couldn’t see what was happening on the fairway,” she said.

“Jaden was already at risk of being hit by a ball by being on the side of the fairway in front of the players on it.

“Going behind a tree, so he couldn’t see what was happening on the fairway, and then suddenly coming out from behind that tree, he risked being hit by any stray ball

“So I find that Jaden was instrumental in his own death and therefore contributed to it, although his contribution is nowhere near as significant as Ashley’s.”

Coroner Johnson made no recommendations to prevent further deaths.

“My investigation is now complete,” she said.

“I extend my condolences to Jaden’s family and friends and apologize for the time it took to complete my investigation.”

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