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E-scooters captivated IU students. But more than 75 have been hurt so far.



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Senior Brian Sweeney fractured his left wrist and elbow after falling off a Lime scooter going 20 miles per hour Oct. 25. He had to wear a brace and sling and was cleared to take it off just before Thanksgiving.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Hundreds of electric scooters showed up this past September without warning, as though they dropped from the sky.

Since then, Bird and Lime scooters have become the cool way to get around.

But there are more than 75 reports of students being injured since October — some seriously.


One student fractured his elbow and wrist. Another lost her front teeth. Then there's Ian McIntire.

The junior who fell from a Bird was never in a coma, despite what some of his IU peers may have heard, but he's still dealing with the effects of cracking his skull.

He doesn’t remember the accident. The last thing he recalls from that day is trying to find a scooter while his friends took an Uber home. 

Now he’s on medical leave from IU and stuck living at home in Indianapolis.

“It was just not a good decision,” he says.

***

A Bird and Lime scooter are set across from each other in front of Dunn's Woods. Bird and Lime electric scooter companies signed an agreement with the City of Bloomington on Wednesday to continue using the city’s parks and right-of-way to operate their businesses. Photo illustration by Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Companies such as Lime and Bird tout their product as a way to solve the “last mile” problem — when a final distance is too close for the bus or a car yet still too far to walk — but the scooters have created new issues as well.

Injuries have been reported in hospitals across the country. At least two men, one in Dallas and one in Washington, D.C., died this summer from scooter-related incidents.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against e-scooter companies Oct. 19 in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit claims dropping e-scooters into cities without warning is a sign of “gross negligence” that is “aiding and abetting assault,” according to court documents obtained by the Washington Post. 

After e-scooters arrived in Indianapolis, the city suspended their operation until implementing rules in September.

Around IU, more than 1,200 scooters have been impounded for not being parked near a bike rack, said Amanda Turnipseed, IU Office of Parking Operations director. One man was arrested for allegedly driving a Lime while drunk. 

Impounded Bird scooters have parking citation notes posted on them. The scooters are currently being held in a storage room at the Poplars Parking Garage. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Beth Rupp, medical director at the IU Health Center, has been tracking student e-scooter injuries since October.

As of Wednesday, there have been at least 55 scooter-related injuries recorded at the IU Health Center. Rupp said she knows through medical records that 22 students have been seen at the IU Health Bloomington Hospital emergency room.

The numbers are almost certainly an underestimate, Rupp said.

IU Health Bloomington Hospital does not keep track of scooter-related incidents, according to multiple spokespeople. 

Additionally, IU Police Department Chief Laury Flint said some injuries likely go unreported. 

"I think part of it is the embarrassment," Flint said. "They don't want to call us."

Although Rupp doesn’t know if the e-scooters should be completely removed, she said riders don’t seem to fully understand the risks. 

“I think campus would be safer without the electric scooters,” she said.

Some riders, like IU senior Brian Sweeney, have experienced malfunctioning e-scooters.

Sweeney almost rode into Walnut Street traffic because his Lime wouldn’t stop. He slowed down and jumped off, but the Lime kept going until it toppled over.

He said no one from the company has responded to him reporting the broken scooter through the app, but when a Lime he’d ridden went missing, he was contacted within a few days.

While riding another Lime on Oct. 25, Sweeney fell. He believes he was going about 20 miles per hour. 

Sweeney was only about a block away from his Gateway apartment near Square Donuts, but it was hard for him to get home.

Dizziness crept up. He usually faints when he’s injured, and he fought lightheadedness as he walked.

When he made it back to his place, he wiped the blood and gravel off his knuckles, texted his friends about what happened and spent the rest of the day in bed.

The pain was worse the next day, so Sweeney went to the IU Health Center, then to an orthopedist, who said he fractured his left wrist and elbow. He wore a brace and sling until right before Thanksgiving.

After the accident, typing was difficult, and it hurt to put on a shirt. The doctor told him not to lift more than one pound with his injured arm.

Sweeney used to prefer Lime scooters because they felt faster, but now he thinks the Birds might be better. 

“Maybe they’re slow for a reason,” he said.

***

Senior Annie Powers lost both her front teeth after falling off a Lime scooter with her boyfriend Oct. 20. She is no longer able to drink anything that is too hot or cold.   Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Five days before Sweeney’s crash, senior Annie Powers hit the ground and immediately knew something was wrong.

Her mouth was in pain, and her hands were covered in blood when she pulled them away from her face.

She and her boyfriend had been riding a Lime together when they clipped a curb and lost control.

A police officer driving by stopped to call Powers an ambulance. As the paramedics took her away from the crash site near Bloomington Bagel Company on Morton Street, she heard the diagnosis.

“22-year-old female,” an EMT said. “Lost both her front teeth.”

She started to cry.

At the hospital, she would learn her right tooth flew completely out of her mouth. Her left one broke in half, leaving her nerves exposed, and she swallowed the bottom.

She also bruised her thigh, scraped her face and bit a chunk out of her lip.

The fall happened in the early hours of Oct. 20, a Saturday, and Powers’ roommate was expecting his parents to visit. They didn't tailgate the IU vs. Pennsylvania State University football game. Instead, they helped Powers find a dentist, who reinserted her right tooth and created a veneer for her left.

Powers is relieved to have teeth again, but she can’t drink anything hot or cold anymore. It’s too painful when it hits the nerves. She loves peanut butter banana smoothies, though she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to enjoy one again.

In the ambulance, Powers remembered knocking some teeth out when she was 8. She asked the EMT if new ones would grow back. 

“No, honey,” the EMT said. 

Powers cried harder.

***

A Bird scooter floats in a current in the end of Jordan River on Oct. 31. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

After initially giving Bird and Lime freedom, the city announced an operational agreement in November, according to a press release.

Bloomington officials see e-scooter technology as a way to possibly fill gaps in available transportation options, but they also want companies to operate responsibly, city spokeswoman Yaël Ksander said. 

Under the new rules, Bird and Lime agreed to each pay the city $10,000 annually plus another 10 cents per ride per scooter to help lessen the strain on Bloomington resources. They also must pay fines in some instances where riders use them improperly.

In separate emails to the Indiana Daily Student, Bird and Lime spokespeople said the companies are happy to work with cities and provide safety standards.

They also encourage riders to wear helmets.

“Bird is committed to partnering with cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option,” the email from Bird said.

The Bird website in August also announced a Global Safety Advisory Board “to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters.” Lime has a similar program called Respect the Ride, through which users can pledge to ride responsibly.

Despite these safety guidelines, many cities and universities aren’t thrilled with e-scooter companies because they don’t communicate before dropping in.

Around town, Birds and Limes have been found broken, submerged in the Jordan River and apparently set on fire.

They are sometimes parked in the middle of sidewalks, possibly affecting people who have vision or mobility disabilities or those who just aren’t looking where they’re going.

***

Wires stick out of a broken Bird scooter Oct. 28 on a sidewalk outside Franklin Hall.  Matt Begala Buy Photos

Most of Oct. 20 is nearly perfect in Ian McIntire’s memory. 

He and his friends hopped from tailgate to tailgate before the football game against Penn State, and he estimates he probably drank six beers over the course of about five hours.

He remembers choosing to take a scooter over an Uber home.

Then, he was asking a woman he didn’t know why he was in a room he didn’t recognize. It was Nov. 1, and the nurse told McIntire he was staying at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana for brain trauma after fracturing his skull.

What was lost to McIntire is captured by witnesses and the IU Police Department in an incident report.

The Bloomington Fire Department was treating the 20-year-old when IUPD officers were dispatched to Fee and Law lanes at 5:38 p.m.

McIntire was unconscious and “bleeding profusely from the head,” with blood also coming from his right ear and nose, the report said. At some point, he had vomited.

Three witnesses told police they saw McIntire heading south on Fee Lane before he crashed a Bird scooter without a helmet on. They thought McIntire fell because he tried to do a trick on the scooter.

Officers reported smelling alcohol on McIntire’s breath and in his vomit, but McIntire says he didn’t feel drunk before the accident.

His parents say he was was conscious within a few hours of the accident, faintly groaning in pain and calling out for them. 

Over the course of the following days, they watched their son go through the nausea, headaches and confusion that come with a brain injury.

After regaining his memory that day at rehab, McIntire began the process of putting his life back together.

Junior Ian McIntire sits in his parents' home in Indianapolis on Nov. 30. McIntire is on medical leave for fracturing his skull and suffering from brain trauma after crashing a Bird scooter.  Lydia Gerike Buy Photos

When a friend’s mom brought him Arby’s in the rehab hospital, he was excited to eat the Beef ’n Cheddar sandwich with curly fries.

He took a bite. The food tasted like nothing. 

McIntire slowly realized the brain injury had shaken his senses. On top of a muted sense of smell and taste, he saw double until Nov. 27, a month and a week after the fall. 

In his right ear, where police reported blood, McIntire’s vestibular bone was broken. He could hear almost nothing out of the ear, and his balance was thrown off. Now, he’ll go into his front yard and practice his golf swing to assess and adjust his balance.

Although McIntire said he’s already progressed much faster than they were expecting, the doctors aren’t sure how long the damage will last.

He’s glad to be alive, but recovery feels frustrating.

McIntire spends lots of his time taking care of Ellie and Frankie, his pugs, and Butters, a mutt. It’s something that makes him feel useful while confined to his parents’ house.

Months ago he thought he’d be studying for final exams right now, but instead McIntire is taking basic cognition tests. With a medical withdraw for the semester, none of McIntire’s classes will count. He plans to take 10 credits in the spring at IU-Purdue University Indianapolis.

McIntire knows it’s unlikely, but he hopes to graduate from Bloomington on time with an informatics degree.

On social media, he watches his IU friends be college students. Some of them have come to visit him, but McIntire would rather join them on campus.

He thinks they still ride the scooters. 

This story has been updated to include a more recent number of impounded scooters.

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