Segway tycoon dies in cliff fall while riding scooter
Tuesday 28 September 2010
The Segway was hailed before its launch as a green transport solution of the future. One such believer in the emission-free scooter-cum-skateboard was a former Yorkshire miner turned multimillionaire philanthropist called Jimi Heselden, who last year bought the American firm which invented the self-righting two-wheeler. But in what appears to have been a freak accident, Mr Heselden has been found dead after apparently plunging 30ft over the side of a cliff while riding one of the machines he hoped would revolutionise the way we travel.
It is believed Mr Heselden was driving an off-road version of the £5,000 upright scooter on a heavily rutted path through the idyllic landscape near his home when tragedy struck. The 62-year-old's body was discovered in the River Wharfe by a walker on Sunday on the edge of his country estate at Boston Spa near Wetherby, West Yorkshire. His Segway was found near by.
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said the entrepreneur was pronounced dead at the scene.
"The incident is not believed to be suspicious and the coroner has been informed," he said.
Tributes were paid to the local businessman who used his redundancy payout following the 1980s miners' strike to develop the Concertainer – an adaptation of a medieval defensive system using wire baskets of earth and water which replaced sandbags as a means of protecting troops. The anti-blast device rapidly became one of Britain's most successful defence exports and helped its inventor earn a fortune of £166m and a place in the Sunday Times Rich List.
His purchase of Segway in December last year surprised observers in the UK who felt the device had more than a touch of Sir Clive Sinclair's doomed electric vehicle the C5 about it. Its intuitive controls and gyroscopic balancing systems may have appealed to technology fans but the Segway, which can be difficult to operate, initially proved a hard sell to the public and was for long dismissed as little more than a rich geek's toy. Despite attracting celebrity drivers such as Dame Helen Mirren and Dick Cheney, the Segway remains banned on British pavements and roads where it is deemed unsafe by the Department of Transport, although it can be used on private land.
Yet Mr Heselden became convinced of the potential of the inventor Dean Kamen's commuting device, launched in 1999, after commissioning research in the United States, where it is legal in many cities.
The scooter, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a golf trolley, has witnessed a surge in popularity in recent years among parking enforcement officers and university campus police, countering the negative publicity generated by George W Bush, who fell off a Segway in 2003. It is now estimated that there are 80,000 Segways in use worldwide.
In Britain, the Segway won the support of the then Tory transport spokesman Robert Goodwill as well as the Liberal Democrats' Lembit Opik. Fans of the machine are keenly awaiting the results of a pending test case. Philip Coates, 51, was charged this year under the 1865 Highways Act for riding his 12mph Segway on the pavement on his five-mile trip to work in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and is due to return to court in November.
Earlier this month, Mr Heselden signed over a £10m cheque for the Leeds Community Foundation which channels money into disadvantaged areas in his home city.
The gift brought his lifetime donations to £23m. He had chosen to base his company, Hesco Bastion Ltd, close to his old childhood home in one of Leeds' most deprived communities.
He said recently: "Life turned out pretty well for me, but I still work in the same area where I grew up and every day I see people who for whatever reason are down on their luck."
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