911 calls reveal details on fireworks incident that killed NHL goalie Matiss Kivlenieks

Detroit Free Press

Audio from 911 calls to Novi police paint a distressing picture of the fireworks incident Sunday night that led to death of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks.

Kivlenieks was at a home in Novi when he was struck by a misfired firework, according to three 911 calls obtained by the Free Press.

“Fireworks misfire,” one caller said in describing the incident. Asked whether the person was conscious, the caller replied, “He’s conscious, he’s conscious.”

“Hey we have someone who was hit by a firework can you come here immediately?” asked the second caller. The dispatcher replied, “We’re already aware of it. Is he awake and talking to you?”

“He’s breathing, we have a nurse here,” the caller answered.

The dispatcher replied, “They’re on their way, just stay there.”

A third caller told Novi police to “come to the house right now.” The caller said “hit with fireworks” in describing what happened.

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Lt. Jason Meier told the Free Press that the calls came in around 10:13 p.m. and paramedics arrived to the scene in four minutes and 38 seconds. Kivlenieks was transported to Ascension Providence Hospital in Novi where he was pronounced dead, Meier said.

Police appear to have redacted some of the audio from the phone calls, including the location of the incident.

While Novi Police said an initial investigation indicated that Kivlenieks died after he slipped and fell while fleeing a hot tub following a fireworks malfunction, an autopsy performed Monday found that the cause of death was a percussive injury to his internal organs as a result of a fireworks explosion.

Kivlenieks was at a large gathering at a private home in Novi when the incident occurred. Novi Police have declined to provide the address of the residence.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Kivlenieks had traveled to Novi to visit Manny Legace, the former Detroit Red Wings goalie and current goaltender coach for the Blue Jackets.

The Free Press has left multiple voice and text messages for Legace since Monday but they have not been returned. A man in the driveway declined to speak with a reporter.

Meier told the Free Press that Novi Police have launched an investigation into Kivlenieks’ death. For the time being, that inquiry does not include a criminal investigation.

“We are still looking at this as a tragic accident,” Meier said. “Based on the new information, we definitely want to reinterview people and make sure that we have an accurate depiction of what happened.”

Ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urged those celebrating to practice fireworks safety. The commission found a 50% increase in deaths and injuries from fireworks-related incidents in 2020 compared with the previous year. The COVID-19 pandemic led many cities to cancel their fireworks shows, leading to an uptick in fireworks sales as Americans put on their own displays.

At the age of 20, Kivlenieks, a Latvia native, signed a three-year contract with the Blue Jackets in 2017 after he was named USHL’s Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year following a strong season with the Sioux City Musketeers. He was 24 when he died.

Reporters Christine MacDonald and Helene St. James contributed to this story. 

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.

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