Austin

UT exchange student who died in scooter-Uber collision identified

City believes this is the first electric scooter related death in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 21-year-old man who was hit Friday when riding a scooter the wrong way on the Interstate 35 frontage road downtown died over the weekend, Austin police confirmed Monday. 

The City of Austin, the Austin Police Department and Seton Healthcare Family (who operates Dell Seton Hospital) say that this is the first scooter-related death they are aware of in Austin. 

Austin Police are still investigating this case, but according to their initial information, it appears a silver Volkswagen Jetta was traveling south on the frontage road around 1 a.m. Friday near Sixth Street and changed lanes to get on the interstate when it hit  21-year-old Mark Sands, who was riding a Lime scooter.

Police say Sands was riding the scooter northbound in that southbound lane at the time on the I-35 service road.  Police say the car involved was being driven as an Uber vehicle at the time and that the driver stayed at the scene, cooperating with investigators.

UT Austin confirmed Sands is one of their students and according to a GoFundMe page for him, he is an exchange student from Ireland.

After the crash Sands spent a day and a half in critical condition at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas and was pronounced dead on Saturday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m. 

APD said the toxicology results in this case are still pending. 

A GoFundMe has been established to raise money for Sands' family's travel expenses from Ireland.

At UT Austin, Sands had joined the Texas Iron Spikes, a men's student organization. The Texas Iron Spikes sent KXAN the following statement about Sands: 

"The Texas Iron Spikes are deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss
 of Mark Sands. Mark was an incredible man who always brought a smile to those around him. He was a kind, loving, and caring individual who regularly put others first. He was truly a blessing to know and touched so many lives for the better. Mark will be missed greatly, and our organization sends our love and condolences to Mark’s family and friends."

Lime sent KXAN the following statement in light of the news that Sands died of his injuries:

“We were devastated to learn of this tragic death here in Austin, and our thoughts are with the victim’s family and friends during this extremely difficult time. We have been in contact with local authorities and will continue to assist however possible." - Collin Morgan, Lime Austin/San Antonio General Manager.

KXAN followed up asking Lime the total numbers of deaths that have occurred related to people riding their scooters, we are still awaiting a response. A couple other riders around the country appear to have died using these scooters, including a man in Dallas back in fall of 2018. 

APD is still collecting information for their investigation of this case. Anyone with information regarding this case should call APD’s Vehicular Homicide Unit Detectives at (512) 974-5576. You can also submit tips by downloading APD’s mobile app, Austin PD, for free on iPhone and Android. 

Austin attorney Jim Freeman who represents people who've been injured in scooter accidents said that he was not surprised to hear of the scooter-related death.

"It's just a matter of time when you put a motorized vehicle on the street that's not intended to be a motorized vehicle, people are gonna get killed," he said. 

Freeman has about eight active scooter cases currently, he said the people concerned enough to contact a lawyer all have significant injuries or high medical bills. 

He can't speculate on what led up to the crash Friday, but he does believe that scooter companies could do more to educate and encourage users to make safer choices, like wearing protective gear. 

"Something needs to be put in place so that Lime and Bird and all these people can't just come in, make a bunch of money off of our city, and leave us to pick up all the pieces," he said. 

But Freeman added that the city and transportation leaders play a role in making this mode of travel safer. 

"You can't have a motorized vehicle on the sidewalks, but there's every incentive to ride on the sidewalk because there's not proper bike lanes to ride them on 75 percent of the streets," Freeman said, estimating the number of streets in Austin without protected lanes where these scooters can ride.  

"That was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to that tragic accident," said Austin Public Safety Commission Member Ed Scruggs of this scooter-related death. "But it does highlight the need that we need to take these problems head-on."

"We need to see some data, we need to see some hard facts about the number of accidents, where they are, why they're happening, etcetera," Scruggs continued. "Because right now we basically have a group of people who have found a mode of transportation that they enjoy and that they feel they seriously need and then, on the other hand, you have a group of people that don't use and don't take advantage of that mode of transportation that feel a little threatened by it and a little annoyed by it."

Scruggs believes the city will need to find good data to quantify dockless vehicle use and injuries in the coming months, or else scooter use will outpace the city's ability to keep up with policy. 

Data on electric vehicle injuries, deaths

While dockless vehicles grow in popularity, transportation and safety advocates bemoan that tracking the data behind them can be very challenging. While police hold on to criminal details, EMS only have information prior to hospital arrivals and hospitals each keep their own data about injuries. Rarely is all this information synced together in one place. 

Seton Healthcare Family told KXAN Monday that since electric scooters officially entered the Austin market in May of 2018, Dell Seton Medical Center at UT Austin has seen 61 severe traumas, including 18 head injuries, 36 orthopedic injuries, and 14 facial injuries. A spokesperson for Seton noted that number does not reflect less severe scooter injuries which are also treated at their hospitals. 

Austin Travis County EMS explained they do not track patients once they get to the hospital, but in the time dockless vehicles have been on the market in Austin, ACTEMS hasn't seen any on-scene fatalities related to scooters. 

Austin's Transportation Department launched a new tool recently that allows the public to search dockless data, but there are limitations to the data the transportation department can offer. 

A spokesperson for ATD explained that the department already has sent out "street teams" on several occasions to talk to people who are using scooters and let them know how to get around safely while following the rules. 

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are currently in Austin conducting the first epidemiological study on dockless scooters in the U.S. They are still going through the details from 37 EMS calls and 68 scooter injuries which occurred in Austin between September 5 and November 4 in 2018. Public officials have indicated the results of this CDC study will impact how they approach dockless policy going forward. 

Captain Darren Noak with ACTEMS explained that for a 90 day period from September to November 2018, ACTEMS responded to 185 scooter-related calls, 126 of those were cases in which patients were transported to the hospital. 

Noak added that ACTEMS has learned that things like proper footwear, avoiding carrying things like backpacks or large briefcases and using helmets can all make riding these vehicles safer. 

"The injuries we're seeing are from fairly minor to critical-life threatening, and usually the critical life-threatening injuries are the result of head injuries," Noak said. 

Noak explained that other news outlets had contacted ACTEMS about another possible scooter related death in Austin in December of 2019 where a patient was transferred to Dell Seton, but Seton confirmed Monday that the case in question was not a scooter-related death. 

KXAN's Tulsi Kamath contributed to this story. 



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