Murdered Matie graduate’s brain injury normally only seen in car accidents

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Carl Schoombie (Supplied)
Carl Schoombie (Supplied)

Cape Town – A man who died after being dragged from an Uber taxi and attacked, had brain injuries usually only seen in people killed in car accidents, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.

"These [diffuse axonal] injuries are quite unusual in cases of assault," State witness Dr Gavin Kirk testified.

"This is because the degree of force required for the acceleration is usually more than is typical in assaults, blows with fists, and punches," the forensic pathologist told the court.

He said blows delivered in a boxing ring would rarely be sufficient to cause this type of injury.

Brent Henry and Juane Jacobs are on trial for the murder of Carl Schoombie, who died from severe injuries after the two men accused him of starting trouble at the Tiger Tiger nightclub in November 2015.

The Stellenbosch University graduate and three friends were on their way home from a Claremont nightclub when he was dragged from his Uber taxi and beaten. He was admitted to hospital in a coma, where he died a few days later.

Kirk, who works for the provincial health department and has 34 years of experience as a doctor, conducted the post-mortem on Schoombie on November 26, 2015.

Significant force

He determined that the cause of death was blunt force head injury and the consequences thereof.

A diffuse axonal injury is when deep layers of nerve cells in the brain have been disrupted or torn.

Kirk said this injury was on the most severe end of the spectrum, associated with a prolonged coma and a high rate of mortality.

"There is no effective medical treatment or therapy for this type of injury."

Judge Robert Henney asked what type of violence or force was usually needed to cause this.

"It usually requires being struck by a swinging object. The head must not be static. It is able to be in motion and struck by enough force, a swinging object or kick," Kirk replied.

Prosecutor Christopher Burke asked if this injury could be caused by someone’s head being kicked. Kirk said it was possible.

The court heard that Schoombie had a skull fracture on the right side of his head, indicative of a blow with significant force.

Skull fractures

He had fractures at the base of his skull, caused by a blow that required even more force. He had a blood clot most commonly associated with skull fractures.

The left surface of his brain had contusions, bruises, and lacerations. Kirk said it was typical for these to be on the opposite side to where direct trauma was experienced.

"It doesn’t occur at the site of impact. The brain is mobile and will be displaced away from the direction of impact."

Schoombie had damage to sacs in his lungs, as a result of pneumonia, a common complication for people in a coma.

Defence lawyer William Booth said he did not expect the pathologist to be called on Monday and would need time to prepare a response.

He wanted to consult an expert on the cause of the blunt force trauma and "whether it could have been caused by actions other than kicking".

The witness left the stand, to be cross-examined at a later stage.

The trial continues.

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