Coroner’s report reveals extent of playground tragedy that led to Wellington toddler’s death

New Zealand

Amberlie Pennington-Foley, 3, died in August last year. Photo / Givealittle

Amberlie Pennington-Foley loved the playground at the park near her house and made a beeline for it when she and her dad arrived that fateful morning.

On Thursday August 27, last year, Robert Foley drove his little girl to Upper Hutt’s Harcourt Park, arriving just after 10am.

His 3-year-old daughter went straight to the flying fox, which she loved, before playing for a short time with another toddler at the park with her mother.

But it would be while playing on another piece of playground equipment – the Supernova Ring – that the unthinkable would happen.

A coroner’s report has revealed the toddler suffered severe head and neck injuries and a brain and spinal cord injury after her father fell on top of her while playing on the equipment with his daughter.

The Supernova is a large wheel that sits just above the ground and is spun by either running on it like on a hamster wheel or using your hands.

The report says Amberlie was sitting on the highest part of the ring as her dad, standing on the wheel, gently moved it by stepping towards the right and then the left – moving the toddler towards him and then back to the other side.

“After repeating this sequence of sideways steps one way and then the other a few times, Mr Foley started to lose his balance,” coroner Peter Ryan wrote.

Amberlie Marion Pennington-Foley, 3, died after an accident at the Harcourt Park, in Upper Hutt, last August. Image / Google
Amberlie Marion Pennington-Foley, 3, died after an accident at the Harcourt Park, in Upper Hutt, last August. Image / Google

As Foley tried to jump off the wheel, it rotated – causing him to start to fall. Because the ring had rotated, Amberlie was now close to him, near the bottom of it.

The report when Foley fell, his full weight landed on his daughter.

“When Mr Foley got up from the ground, he saw Amberlie get off the seating platform. She was standing, but was very wobbly.”

He noticed blood around his daughter’s nose and on her top and knew she was hurt, the report reads.

‘A tragic accident in the true sense of the word’ – coroner

He carried her to the car. He decided to take his daughter to a nearby medical clinic about three minutes away instead of calling an ambulance, as he thought it would be faster.

On arrival, the little girl was said to be pale and was not making a sound. Staff at the clinic immediately called for an ambulance.

Despite attempts to resuscitate her, Amberlie could not be saved.

Ryan said Amberlie’s death was not because of any fault or defect of the equipment itself.

There was no evidence her father had been operating the equipment in a dangerous or reckless manner either, he said.

“Amberlie’s death was a tragic accident in the true sense of the word.

“I would not be surprised to learn that many other parents had previously operated the Supernova in a similar manner without serious incident,” Ryan said.

“I would have been difficult to foresee that such harm could come to Amberlie while playing on this piece of equipment.”

After considering all the circumstances of the accident and Amberlie’s death, Ryan had no recommendations or comments to make, other than to send condolences to Amberlie’s family.

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