Coroner: Teen felt suicide was 'only solution'

22:52, May 29 2012
David Gaynor
TRAGEDY: David Gaynor

A teen at Auckland's wealthy private King's College under the influence of drugs and alcohol felt suicide was his only solution after he was sent home from his school ball, a coroner has found.

David Patrick Gaynor, 17, jumped to his death from a motorway overbridge in Greenlane, Auckland, in June 2011.

The Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, today released his report into David's death, finding the teenager's actions were a result of a "particular combination of alcohol, drugs and fear of disciplinary action" that "an objective outsider would find difficult to comprehend".

In an unusual move for suicide cases, Judge MacLean allowed publication of the details of David's death, to clear up rumours and speculation surrounding the events, and "in the hope that others may avoid a similar tragedy".

Judge MacLean found that David was a "happy, sociable teenager", who was popular at school and enjoyed sports.

David's friends and family had never known him to be depressed and there was no evidence there were any major events that disrupted his life in the week before his death.

On Saturday June 11, 2011, David prepared to go to the King's College Ball, with his father, business commentator Brian Gaynor, giving him "gentle reminders" to go easy on alcohol, to look after his date, and not to take drugs.

David went to two pre-ball parties: one at an informal drinks gathering in St Heliers, the other a more formal event in downtown Auckland.

His friends' parents were at the St Heliers house, where David drank bourbon and coke before driving to the next event.

No-one knew how much David had to drink at the gathering, although one of his friends told the coroner he was not slurring his words but he probably should not have been driving.

Judge MacLean noted the school had sent a letter to parents stating alcohol should not be served if any unofficial pre-parties were organised.

The letter also said if a student was sent home from the ball because of alcohol there would be "severe school disciplinary sanctions".

David and his ball date went through four "check points" where they talked with security or school staff members before entering the ball, but there were no concerns about either of them.

No alcohol was served at the ball at Eden Park, and out of 709 students and guests, a total of six people were sent home, four of these were female guests who did not attend the school.

At 8.45pm, David was discovered in the female toilet area, talking to a girl, by a security guard.

The guard said he got no response from David when he told him he was in the wrong toilets, and described him as "being in a sombre mood, as if he was having a bad day".

When David gave his name to the guard, he suspected the teenager was either drunk or under the influence of drugs.

David's housemaster spoke to him, and noticed he had a "blank expression", and was not his usual self, but he denied taking anything.

He called Brian Gaynor and asked him to collect his son.

As the pair left, just before 9pm, the housemaster told them David would face disciplinary action that week.

Gaynor told his son being expelled was a possibility and this was a "major disappointment" to him.

When they reached home, David told his father he was going to bed, while Gaynor stayed in the house reading and watching television.

From 9.30pm that night onwards, David texted friends that he was going to jump off a bridge.

Friends who got the texts responded with supportive calls and messages to David, and discovered he was at a petrol station in Greenlane.

Three friends were granted permission to leave the ball and find David.

They called at Gaynor's home. He then joined the search, and called and texted his son's cellphone.

One of his calls was eventually answered by a police officer, who told him to go to Auckland Hospital.

David's last text was sent at 10.24pm.

He fell from the motorway overbridge minutes later.

David's blood alcohol was found to be 132 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, more than four times the legal driving limit at the time for a driver of his age.

A party pill "4-MEC" and cannabis were also found in his system.

Two more "4-MEC" pills were found on David's body.

The coroner ruled the effects of the drugs on David could not be assessed accurately and his perception of any school punishment contributed to his state of mind.

"However, in my view the evidence does enable me to draw the conclusion that the combined effects of the drugs and alcohol would have adversely affected him that evening and impaired his judgment."

The coroner rejected suggestions from Gaynor that King's College should have provided medical staff at the ball to deal with intoxicated students, or that he should have been called when David's friends were given permission to leave the ball to look for and support David.

In a recent school newsletter, Principal Bradley Fenner addressed the tragedy, saying it led to "a good deal of soul-searching".

He expressed "disappointment" at the "excessively liberal and permissive attitudes" of some of the school's parents.

King's College did not hold a ball this year.


Auckland Now