The busy streets of downtown Austin are awash in electric scooters that zip through traffic, crowd street corners and sit parked outside bustling hotels by the dozen.
For months now, the city’s emergency rooms have been awash in something else: severely injured people, many of them young and formerly uninhibited.
The latest example is Mark Sands, a 21-year-old exchange student from Ireland who now holds the tragic distinction of becoming the first Austin resident killed in an accident involving an electric scooter.
Police say Sands was riding a Lime scooter and traveling in the wrong direction on a busy downtown street early Friday morning when he was struck by an Uber driver, leaving him badly injured. He was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center, where he died the next day, authorities said.
Though no official tally is known, an unofficial count suggests that Sands is at least the third person to die in an accident involving the electric mobility devices that have swept across the nation in the past year.
At Dell alone, doctors have documented 61 incidents of severe trauma, including 18 head injuries, 36 orthopedic injuries and 14 facial injuries, linked to electric scooters since April, a hospital spokesman told The Washington Post. Those numbers do not include less-severe injuries that are also treated at the facility, the spokesman noted.
Sands’s death has reverberated across Austin. Though the fast-growing city is home to tens of thousands of students, the community’s small-town feel means locals still reel each time a young person is killed.
“If you’ve ever been lucky enough to meet Mark you’ve surely noticed his constant smile,” a statement on Sands’s GoFundMe page says. “He was one of the most charming and amusing people you will ever meet.”
“Mark never met a stranger or someone he didn’t like,” the statement adds. “He had a passion for everyone he knew and he always looked out for others.”
Though the number of deaths linked to electric scooters remains low, severe injuries are fairly common, according to trauma doctors around the country, many of whom have reported injured riders pouring into emergency rooms for months.
Over a one-year period in two Los Angeles emergency departments, more people were injured while riding standing electric scooters than by riding bicycles or traveling on foot, according to the results of a study published last month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open that documented injury statistics from September 2017 to August 2018.
Of the 249 patients who received treatment for scooter-related injuries, nearly 28 percent suffered contusions, sprains and lacerations. About 30 percent had fractures, and more than 40 percent were treated for head injuries, the study found. Nearly all the patients were discharged from emergency departments, but 15 were admitted to a hospital, including two with severe head injuries who were placed in intensive-care units.
In recent months, numerous riders have reported being injured by scooters that malfunction, throwing riders off the vehicles at high speed. Last year, Lime — one of the world’s largest scooter companies — was forced to issue two recalls after The Post reported that some scooters had batteries capable of catching fire and others included baseboards that split in half while people rode them.
Pedestrians, particularly elderly ones, have also been severely injured after being struck by electric scooters or tripping over devices that have been left on the sidewalk, according to doctors.
Some health-care professionals have referred to the wave of injuries as a public health crisis. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to study the health risks associated with the two-wheeled vehicles by analyzing injuries to riders and pedestrians in Austin over two months.
Austin Public Safety Commission member Ed Scruggs told NBC affiliate KXAN that Sands’s death “was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to that tragic accident” but added that the city needs more “hard facts” about the number and location of e-scooter accidents before officials can address the issue.
“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 said.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Collin Morgan, Lime’s general manager in Austin, said the company was “devastated” to learn about Sands’s death.
“We have been in contact with local authorities and will continue to assist however possible,” the statement added.
Sands’s death follows the deaths of two other men in recent months. Jacoby Stoneking — a 24-year-old Dallas man — died after falling off a Lime electric scooter in September and receiving blunt force head injuries, authorities said. Carlos Sanchez-Martin, of Silver Spring, Md., was struck and killed by an SUV in September while riding a Lime scooter in Washington.
Sands was studying computer science at University College Dublin’s School of Computer Science and planned to continue his studies after returning to Ireland next semester, according to a statement posted on the school’s Facebook page. While in Austin, he joined the Texas Iron Spikes, a men’s student organization, according to KXAN.
The toxicology results from the Sands case are pending, police said.
The moderator of Sands’s GoFundMe page posted a statement from the student’s mother, who was not identified. The statement said Sands’s organs were donated and asked people to remember her son while listening to the U2 song “Elevation.”
“It was a very special song between Mark and I and one I was going to dance with him at his wedding and do our goofy dance,” she wrote. “It will be playing in the operating theatre when they work on him.”