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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

Picnic Day death resulted from “freak” neck injury

The death of 22-year-old Scott Heinig, a graduate of Davis Senior High School and a UC Davis baseball player, resulted from a rare, “freak” injury to a neck artery after being punched by one of his friends, according to authorities.

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office will not press criminal charges against the person who delivered the punch, even though Heinig’s April 17 death has been classified as homicide-death by human hands. The alignment of events “occurred as a result of accident or misfortune, as opposed to an intentional killing,” said Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department, citing a joint Police Department and DA’s Office press release.

Although Heinig’s relatives could not be reached for comment, Michael Cabral, assistant chief deputy district attorney, told the Davis Enterprise the family is “completely behind us on this decision. This was a lifelong friend of Scott’s, and they didn’t want charges filed.”

Doroshov said Heinig was with a group of longtime friends attending an April 16 post-Picnic Day gathering at a home on Fifth Street, where the injury occurred. Near the end of the party, some of the attendees went into the house, while Heinig, who had been drinking alcohol, stayed on the driveway with a few of his friends.

“During this time, Heinig was insisting that his friends punch him in the face,” behavior common among Heinig and his friends, according to Doroshov. The police interviewed a number of Heinig’s friends as part of their investigation.

“They attend Picnic Day events earlier in the day, but the death occurred at a private gathering,” Doroshov said. “There’s no evidence it was directly related to Picnic Day. This absolutely could have happened any other night.”

According to Doroshov, Heinig’s friends repeatedly refused to hit him, and when he was met with additional refusal, he struck one of his friends in the face twice. In response, the friend punched Heinig one time in the face.

The movement of Heinig’s neck following the punch ruptured his vertebral artery, a major artery that runs along the spinal column and into the brain, according to Cabral.

“He was likely not going to survive once that happened,” despite attempts by friends and emergency personnel to perform CPR, Cabral said. “It would have been very difficult for a medical professional to find it in time.”

Heinig’s injury caused him to fall and strike his head on the driveway, but Cabral said the ruptured artery, not the fall, caused his death. The cause of death was listed as blunt-force head and neck injury, and coroner’s officials noted there were no signs of multiple injuries or severe trauma.

Doroshov said this is a very rare occurrence and that the friend who delivered the punch was pretty devastated.

Cabral said his office considered a range of possible charges in the case, from involuntary manslaughter to murder.

“We looked at all of that, but their key component is an intent to kill or some unlawful act, and we didn’t feel either of those were involved in this case,” Cabral said. Prosecutors also looked at battery, “but it’s kind of hard to file battery [charges] if the person asked to be hit,” he said.

Heinig’s blood-alcohol content, recorded five hours after the incident due to the priority given to lifesaving efforts, was measured at .11, above the legal level of .08.

“Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learned out of this,” Cabral said. “People tend to think nothing’s going to happen when you’re horsing around with a group of friends. It’s a terrible situation.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven said the DA’s office does get incidences of homicide that do not meet the legal requirements of a crime.

In terms of Picnic Day though, he said the office mostly deals with charges of public drunkenness, minors in possession of alcohol and resisting arrest. 

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.

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