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Errant firework killed goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, autopsy shows

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks during an NHL hockey game in New York.
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died from an errant mortar-style firework striking him in the chest, preliminary autopsy results show.
(Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

A medical examiner in Michigan says an autopsy has determined that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast, and not a fall as authorities previously reported.

Police in Novi, Michigan, said the mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby Sunday night. The 24-year-old Kivleniek was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people, police Lt. Jason Meier said.

The fire department and EMTs got to the private home shortly after 10 p.m. and took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office reported preliminary autopsy results Monday afternoon.

Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from a malfunctioning firework.

Meier said the autopsy findings prompted officers to re-interview some witnesses. He said police will continue seeking to interview as many people as they can who were present at the time.

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“We’re starting to put together a pretty good picture of what occurred,” he said, reiterating that police believe Kivlenieks’s death was accidental.

Meier said police who responded to the emergency calls said there was a “large gathering” at the home Sunday night but he didn’t have an estimate of how many people were there or how many people police want to speak with.

Meier would not provide the address of the property in Novi, a northern suburb of Detroit. A police report hasn’t been completed yet.

The Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation announced Kivlenieks’ death earlier Monday, with the NHL club saying it resulted from an apparent head injury in a fall. The team’s statement made no mention of fireworks.

Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: “Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”

“We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his mother, Astrida, his family and friends during this devastating time,” Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said. “Kivi was an outstanding young man who greeted every day and everyone with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten.”

“What a tragic loss for all of us who knew him and I am thinking and praying for his family,” former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno tweeted. “Heaven gained a darn good goalie and better person. Just, way too soon.”

Former Columbus defenseman David Savard learned of it from Foligno.

“That was a brutal wakeup this morning,” Savard said in French. “That was a good kid with a lot of talent who was going to be a part of the team next year or in the future. That’s extremely sad.”

Kivlenieks’ death came on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal, where the Tampa Bay Lightning had a chance to clinch the championship against the Canadiens on Monday night.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Kivlenieks’ “love for life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all those who have been fortunate to have him as a teammate and a friend.”

Kivlenieks most recently represented Latvia this spring at the world hockey championship in which he played four games. He played two games for the Blue Jackets and eight for the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters this past season.

A native of Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017 and played eight teams for the club. The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death “a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.”


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