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Golfer free of blame in death on course

For days, he wrongly thought his golf ball killed another player.

Charlie Williamson spent the worst two days of his life thinking he'd killed a man.

The police had told him his 220-yard shot Thursday afternoon on the sixth fairway of the Terrace Hill Golf Center hit another golfer in the head. One ProStaff 2 golf ball straight to the right temple.

A freak accident, they said.

Williamson and his wife, Cindy, kept their 10-year-old son, Corey, home from school Friday. Williamson didn't go to work, either. He didn't sleep. He couldn't eat. He couldn't stop thinking about it, reliving it in his mind.

"I've hit that ball a thousand times," he said Saturday afternoon. And each time, he felt totally devastated.

Then he got a call Saturday afternoon from an investigator with the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office. Staffers there had seen the news story.

He learned that a heart attack killed the other golfer. The golf ball, said investigator Henry Poage, had nothing to do with the death. Dr. Julia Martin, who conducted the autopsy, found no head injury.

Williamson's torment was the result of a string of errors and coincidence.

He and Corey had been on a father-and-son outing Thursday, starting at the 9-hole Terrace Hill Golf Center.

Williamson thought his shot on the sixth fairway pulled to the left a little. He and Corey were getting into their cart when they saw a woman running their way, frantically waving her arms.

When they got to the top of the hill and looked down at the green, they saw a man lying on the ground, surrounded by other golfers. Williamson went over to help.

Patrick Royce, 51, lay gasping for breath. His eyes were half- shut.

As Williamson held Royce's head, he saw a little swelling at his right temple. Later, a Temple Terrace police detective noted some discoloration there, according to police Sgt. William Frey.

A golfer in Royce's group told police he heard Royce grunt, saw a ball roll away from him and saw Royce fall to the ground.

No one, however, said they saw a ball strike Royce.

After police interviewed everyone, Williamson and Corey were going to their car when an officer came over and asked him what kind of golf balls he had been hitting.

The officer checked Williamson's golf balls and found a ProStaff 2.

"He said, "This is it. This is the type of ball that hit him,' " Williamson said.

Don't leave yet, he told Williamson.

They questioned him again. Were the people ahead of you playing too slowly? they asked him. Some golfers are known to deliberately hit into the party ahead of them if they felt those people were holding them up.

They later let him go, assuring him that they understood it was just an accident, and there would be no charges.

That was no comfort. "It turned a game I loved into something I hated. I almost left my clubs there," he said.

For the next two days, Williamson replayed in his mind what had happened.

He struggled to explain to their son.

Corey tried to comfort him.

"The thought of him thinking I may have done something like that, that's what hurt the most," said Williamson. "I didn't want him to look at me like that."

After the Times asked about it Saturday, Poage called Williamson and put an end to his torment.

"I feel like a ton of pressure's been lifted off me," Williamson said. "I've never had a feeling like that. I can't even describe it."

"I think tonight I'll finally get some sleep," he said.

_ Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or gibsonsptimes.com.

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