'Cowardly' bashing blamed for early death

A mindless, unprovoked Bridge St bashing did not end for the victim that night.

The legacy for Rob Hodgson, who suffered a serious head injury, was a torturous two years that ended when the 39-year-old died suddenly of a seizure in his Nelson apartment.

His best mate Jonny Zamalis wants others to know.

"It's a warning of what can happen when you give people a cowardly punch."

The inquest findings into Mr Hodgson's death have now been released, with Coroner Carla na Nagara finding he most likely died from a seizure.

However, Mr Zamalis says in effect his mate died the night of the assault. "He wasn't the same after that."

Concerned friends have been waiting for the coroner's findings, some believing that the offender should face a manslaughter charge, but police had told them an offender could not be charged again, he said.

Daniel Craig Hunt, 24, was sentenced in 2011 to one year 10 months in jail for wounding with intent to injure, plus six months for driving while disqualified, a total of two years, four months imprisonment.

Mr Hodgson had been celebrating paying off his credit card the night he went to town with his forestry workmates. At the end of the night they'd gone separate ways, and as the pub crowd spilled onto the road, there was a verbal dispute.

The court heard that as the fight escalated, someone punched Mr Hodgson in the face. He didn't retaliate, and asked why he had been punched.

Judge David McKegg told Hunt: "At that point, without warning, you ran quickly towards him from across the road and punched him in the head. The force of that punch knocked him out and he fell backwards, striking the ground, with what one witness described as a sickening noise, and you ran away."

Mr Hodgson later woke up in Nelson Hospital, and the coroner's findings tell of his slow and painful recovery from his serious head injury.

The coroner said a review of medical reports documenting his recovery indicated Mr Hodgson suffered severe ongoing pain, had difficulty with functioning following the assault, struggled with anxiety, and did not alway comply with treatment.

On the night of August 9, 2012 a friend was concerned that he had been unable to contact him for several days, and when police went into his Franklyn St apartment Mr Hodgson was found lying face down on the floor near his bed, dead.

He'd last been seen two days before by a neighbour, and that evening, when at a friend's place, he had suddenly grabbed the back of his head and grimaced with pain. The friend described him as having a look of fear on his face and in his eyes. He offered to take him to hospital but Mr Hodgson insisted he was all right and later walked home.

Pathologist Dr Graeme Taylor had stated that while the cause of death could not be definitively ascertained, he believed it was most likely a fatal cardiac arrhythmia or a seizure, possibly precipitated by his previous head injury in conjunction with an increased level of the pain reliever tramadol.

To Mr Zamalis, there's no question that the assault led to his friend's death.

The pair had been friends since they were both eight year olds at Nayland Primary.

Now 40, Mr Zamalis recalls his red-headed buddy as "volatile, grumpy, a little bit crazy, loyal and a lot of fun". Rob's mum died when he was 8, his taxi driver dad when he was 14, then the Zamalis family looked out for him.

After college, he got a job as a bricklayer. Then, like his dad, he became a taxi driver. "He was a hustler, he really tried to do well at it, the problem was he got fat," said Mr Zamalis.

That changed when he became a forestry worker in silviculture. "He was physically fit and he was top gun in the gang."

Mr Zamalis is tearfully upset at how his friend changed after his head injury. "He was down and depressed. He wanted to go back to work but couldn't. He was in pain and constantly on medication. It's not a life.

"People think it's funny when they punch somebody. They're bullies. He was only a little guy.

"This is what can happen when somebody runs over and punches somebody."

He said Mr Hodgson had been trying to get his life together.

The pair had planned to drive across America. They'd already picked a SS Camaro car and their first donut-shop stop, and planned to stop off en route to meet online gaming players Zipper, Raider and Novacane. "Robbie got to be a real cult figure online for causing havoc," he said.

They never got to make the trip, Mr Zamalis instead working through the journey of his best friend's life as he cleared out his room, keeping some mementos for his older sister, Shelley, in Wellington, and finding a new wallet he'd planned to put US dollars in.

Fighting back tears, Mr Zamalis said: "He got king-hit for the thrill of it which is not right. It's a cowardly punch. It sucks, I miss him a lot."

Hunt was released from prison in July, 2012, and remained on parole until June last year.

The Nelson Mail