In a bizarre twist, James Heselden, owner of the company that makes the two-wheeled Segway personal transporter, died Sunday morning in a Segway-related mishap -- just before the scheduled release of a study suggesting injuries related to the vehicles may be on the rise.
According to a witness report, Heselden, 62, apparently fell off a 30-foot cliff into a river while riding a Segway near his home in West Yorkshire, UK. Police found Heselden's body and a Segway personal transporter in the river. He was pronounced dead at the scene and foul play is not suspected, West Yorkshire Police told reporters.
A short statement posted on the Segway company website noted that Heselden "died in a tragic accident."
"Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends, who have asked for privacy at this time."
Meanwhile, emergency room doctors said in a study released on Monday that cases of Segway-related injuries "are significant and seem to be increasing," with inexperienced users perhaps bearing the brunt of these injuries.
Slated for publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine, authors of the new study suggest -- based on cases treated at The George Washington University Hospital Emergency Department -- that "[f]urther investigation into the risks of use, as well as the optimal length and type of training or practice, is warranted."
Matt Dailida, vice president of governmental affairs for Segway and official spokesperson for the company, said a three-component safety training regimen is recommended for all users of the personal transportation devices -- whether they are buying a Segway or are a first-time user renting one for a group tour by a Segway-authorized business.
"What I do know is that every single one of our authorized dealers and renters are meeting some very strict guidelines as to safety training," he said, noting that those participating in group tours must devote an additional 30 to 40 minutes to reading materials, a video presentation and hands-on training with a Segway.
The battery-powered, gyroscope-stabilized Segway, which speeds riders along in an upright position at up to 12.5 miles per hour, was invented by Dean Kamen, who founded the Segway company in 1999.
The number of Segway-related injuries seen at The George Washington University Hospital Emergency Department rose from just five in last nine months of 2005 to 25 in the first 11 months of 2008. More than three quarters of these patients arrived in the emergency department during the summer months, when Segway group tours around the Washington Mall were in full swing, suggesting that these inexperienced users were most likely to get hurt. Most of the cases in the study involved head injuries from the accidents.
As of last year, according to Segway, consumers have purchased an estimated 50,000 Segways since the company unveiled the product in 2001.
Reports of deaths from Segway riders appear to be rare, including a 2004 incident in which a 59-year-old man died after falling from one of the vehicles.