Record of Investigation into Death
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Regulations 1996
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated the death of
James Tasman ROGERS
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
Find That :
James Tasman ROGERS ("Mr Rogers") died on Saturday 3 October 2009 at 25 Watkins Road, Miena.
Mr Rogers was born in Hobart on 26 April 1961 and was aged 48 years at the time of his death.
Mr Rogers had, on 22 April 2004, changed his name by application to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Victoria. As a consequence he also held a Tasmanian drivers licence in that name. His immediate family were unaware of these details and in family, employment and social circles he was known by his birth name.
At the time of his death Mr Rogers was employed as a truck driver but had since late 2007 been incapacitated for work due to a back injury suffered at work.
Mr Rogers had been in a long term defacto relationship of some 16 years and lived at 39 Henley Street, Lindisfarne.
I find that Mr Rogers died as a result of acute ethanol toxicity (alcohol poisoning) with significant contributing factors being his obesity (BMI 33) and atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
Mr Rogers was not being treated by a medical practitioner at the time of his death.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death :
Mr Rogers had a life time involvement in playing AFL football and cricket. This involvement was in Tasmania and also in Victoria during the period 1997 to 2005 whilst Mr Rogers and his family lived in Victoria. In 2007 Mr Rogers commenced coaching AFL football teams and in 2009 was the coach of the Central Hawks football team that played in the Southern Football League. At the end of the 2009 season an end of season trip was organised to a shack of one of the players at 25 Watkins Road, Miena. It was planned that the players would stay there for the weekend 2-4 October 2009. On Friday 2 October 2009 Mr Rogers and his son, Jacob (who played with the Central Hawks) travelled with two other players to 25 Watkins Road, arriving at between 9.30 and 10.00 pm.
Apparently there were approximately 25 people in attendance with some in the residence and others standing about a fire pot outside. The general thrust of what was outlined by other attendees is that most if not all were drinking a significant amount of alcohol. Some drifted away at various times to get some sleep but others stayed up all night and continued drinking. Mr Rogers was one such person.
At approximately 7.30 am on Saturday 3 October Mr Trent Fenton was awoken by Mr Rogers. His description of what then occurred was as follows:
"He told me to get up because I was falling behind. I told Jacob to go and grab the bottle of Vodka out of my bag so that I could catch up. Jacob came back to the bedroom where I was and gave me the bottle of Vodka. I had a mouthful and got out of bed. Jimmy (Mr Rogers) was still stirring me about lagging behind so I drunk some more of the Vodka, Jimmy took the Vodka off me and told me not to drink it like that as I’d get pissed too quickly, but then he skulled the rest of the bottle. The Vodka was a 375 ml bottle of Smirnoff Vodka, I would estimate that Jimmy drank at least 250 mls of the Vodka."
Mr Fenton relayed this information to Mr Rogers’ son, Jacob, who some time later saw his father walking in the vicinity of a boat shed at the property. Shortly after this he was informed that his father had fallen over and he and another person went to his assistance. They helped Mr Rogers to his feet but he was incapable of walking. He was described by Mr Cameron Horne as being 10 on a scale of 1-10 in terms of intoxication, "He was incapable of walking, he had not passed out but was extremely drunk".
Others then assisted to carry Mr Rogers into a shed on the property where he was provided with some bedding and placed on the floor. He was conscious but complained that he could not move his legs. At his request he was left to sleep. His son, Jacob, checked on his condition approximately 20 minutes later and he was noted to be breathing and sleeping.
At some time, estimated to have been shortly after 10.00 am, another check of Mr Rogers revealed that he did not appear to be breathing, a pulse could not be located and his face was purple. Resuscitation efforts were commenced by Mr Cameron Horne and Mr Trent Fenton and an ambulance was summoned. A local volunteer ambulance officer, Ms Theresa Nichols, received a page emergency call at 10.49 am. Ms Nichols travelled directly to the scene from her residence at Arthurs Lake in her own vehicle as there was likely to be a delay in the ambulance arriving as it had to travel from Bronte Park. She arrived at the scene at approximately 11.15 am and concluded after an examination of Mr Rogers that he was deceased. Upon arrival of the ambulance the absence of any cardiac output was confirmed once the defibrillator was attached to Mr Rogers.
The Police conducted a detailed examination and investigation, the findings of which are consistent with the autopsy finding that Mr Rogers died as a result of ethanol (alcohol) toxicity. The forensic scientist who analysed Mr Rogers’ post mortem blood concentration at 0.392 g/100 ml (0.392%) comments that;
"Blood alcohol concentrations in excess of 0.4 grams/100 ml are potentially fatal and may cause loss of consciousness, respiratory failure and, if there is no supportive care, death. It is reported that alcohol can cause death from a combination of respiratory, cerebral and cardiac depression. Depression of respiration is the most toxic effect of alcohol at high concentrations. Deaths have been reported at levels as low as 0.2 g/100 ml in persons with underlying cardio-respiratory disease, and in those who have aspirated vomitus, or have obstructed airways (sleeping/unconscious)."
The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy upon Mr Rogers comments that;
"Toxicology testing revealed a markedly elevated blood alcohol concentration. Obese individuals with heart disease are at risk of death due to the CNS (central nervous system) depressant effects of ethanol."
Comments and Recommendations :
Involvement in sport both with participation or watching is something valued highly by members of the Australian community. It is an important part of the Australian culture and brings benefits both in relation to health and wellbeing but also allows social interaction amongst participants and observers. However the episode described in this decision is of concern given the excessive and unhealthy level of alcohol consumption by many involved and the poor role model provided by senior members of the group to younger players who were part of the weekend. The positives flowing from participation in sport need to be weighed against the all too familiar practice of excessive alcohol consumption after games to celebrate or commiserate or at the infamous end of season trips that occur. Health authorities maintain that alcohol drinking to intoxication should have no place in today’s Australian society, particularly given the knowledge of the common and serious harms that arise across the Nation in heavy drinkers at sporting events and among innocent friends, family members and bystanders in the community. This episode illustrates the continued culture of strong association between drinking, and in particular binge drinking to intoxication, and sporting teams and/or activities.
Some alarming results concerning the prevalence and association between excessive drinking and sporting activities was detailed in an evaluation report, "Knowing the Score" produced by Ms Catherine Craw, a research officer for the Drug Education Network Inc. in September 2009. This was a scoping study on the prevalence, patterns and attitudes of drug and alcohol use in Tasmanian community sporting clubs. In the preamble she states;
"The relationship between alcohol consumption and sport in Australian society is longstanding and tightly woven on many levels. Alcohol often features heavily in post sport celebrations or commiserations for both participants and spectators alike. The involvement of alcohol companies and local hotels through sponsorship of many sporting clubs is evident at both the community and elite levels, while athletes and/or teams are used to link alcohol to desirable personal and social attributes. Previous studies have uncovered large proportions of high risk drinking in sports people (Duff, Scealy and Rowland, 2005 "The Culture and Context of Alcohol Use in Community Sporting Clubs in Australia": Research into "Attitudes" and "Behaviour": Australian Drug Foundation, Lawson & Evans 1992 "Prodigious Alcohol Consumption by Australian Rugby League Footballers Drug and Alcohol Review", 11, 193-195, Rowe (2003) "A Motivational approach to binge drinking, alcohol consumption and alcohol related harms among male and female sports participants" Australian National University Canberra."
Ms Craw reports at page 24 of her report that;
"Alcohol is by far the most commonly consumed drug in Tasmania. In 2007, 85.6% of Tasmanians aged over 14 years reported drinking alcohol. Of these, 40.5% of people drank weekly and almost twice as many males (9%) drank daily compared to females (4.8%). The proportion of Tasmanians reporting never having had a full serve of alcohol was 8.2%.
Tasmanian alcohol use defies national trends, with an increasing number of people who drink at rates that can cause both short term and long term harm. Just under half of males (48.4%) and 31.2% of females reported drinking at risky or high risk levels, compared to 38.7% of males and 30.5% of females nationally. Tasmania also has the highest proportion of young people who drink alcohol at risky or high risk levels (19.8%) compared to the national levels (15.3%) (Tasmanian Department of Health & Human Services 2008 "Tasmanian Alcohol Trends").
For long term harm, 12.7% of Tasmanian males and 11.2% of females drank at risky or high risk levels compared to the national average of males (10.2%) and females (10.5%). The proportion of Tasmanian adults drinking at a high risk for long term harm was almost doubled from 2.7% to 4.4% over the last 10 years in Tasmania (Tasmanian Department of Health & Human Services 2008). This figure reflects an increase in most age groups and for those aged 35-44 years the increase from 10.8% to 14.5% was statistically significant."
I commend to Government, sporting clubs and the wider community the recommendations made by Ms Craw at pages 112-115 of her Report. In summary, sporting clubs ought have well documented policies known to their members relating to both alcohol and illicit drug use. Sporting clubs ought take a more active role in supporting and encouraging harm reduction practices such as drug education programmes implemented as part of a wider health promotion focus, provision of information about the club’s drug policies, contact details of drug and alcohol services, and a check list tool to allow self assessment of problematic alcohol use.
There is clearly a community need to support further research into assessing community concern of alcohol use within the sporting environment and to allow a feedback loop to inform sporting clubs and players as to the general community perception of drug and alcohol use within local sporting clubs. Government has a role to play both in implementing policies to assist in breaking the nexus between sporting activities and alcohol abuse, and also to provide funding to assist sporting clubs in their endeavours to break this nexus and also in education of sporting participants and the general community.
It is clear that alcohol fuelled end of season trips of any scale are still an accepted norm within some sporting clubs and therefore there needs to be action taken to identify the extent of the continuing problem and with the input of all stakeholders, map out steps that can be implemented and continued over time to foster a realisation that such conduct is unsafe and unhealthy and to ensure it is not portrayed to the younger participants as normal and acceptable conduct.
This was a tragic outcome which occurred due to this unsustainable nexus between sporting activity and alcohol abuse. Not only is it a danger to the health of participants but it highlights the need for community generally, and sporting clubs in particular, to address the unacceptability of such conduct of participants today, but more importantly for those that follow and look to role models.
I wish to conclude by conveying my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Rogers.
This matter is now concluded
Dated : The 12 day of July 2010 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.