Technology · August 5, 2022

A Pacific Palisades girl has died in an electric bike accident. Her parents see greater danger

Enchanted Way is a small road in the Pacific Palisades with breathtaking views of the sea stretching out below.

But ever since their 12-year-old daughter died in an e-bike accident on the block a year and a half ago, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir have avoided the majestic road near their home.

The pair filed lawsuits this week against Rad Power Bikes, the up-and-coming company whose product Molly Steinsapir rode down the steep hill of the Enchanted Way with a friend on Jan. 31, 2021. Stone Sapir’s friend tried to brake as they sped downhill, but the bike wouldn’t stop and instead the girls lost control and were thrown onto the concrete, where Molly lamented, lying face down, unresponsive and still wearing her helmet .

“I used to go for a walk there. I haven’t been up there since then,” said Jonathan Steinsapir, 44. “It’s a really nice street with amazing sea views. That’s why the girls rode up there that day. I don’t know if I avoided it at first. Now I kinda have because it makes more and more sense that I haven’t gone there since.

“I can’t imagine ever going back to the Enchanted Way,” added Kaye, 44. “I can’t even approach that area.”

Rad Power Bikes declined to comment on the lawsuit and questions about how it ensures children don’t use its adult products.

“The entire Rad Power Bikes team extends its deepest condolences to the Steinsapir family on the tragic loss of Molly Steinsapir,” said Brandie Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Rad Power Bikes, in a statement.

They were at home a few blocks away when a neighbor called to say Molly had been in an accident.

Molly Steinsapir, center, with her parents and her two younger brothers

Molly Steinsapir, middle, who died in an e-bike accident at the age of 12, with her parents, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir, and her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli.

(Family Stone Sapir)

As they pulled out of their driveway, an ambulance sped past and they followed it to the scene of the crime. The couple said they had a fight while driving to the Enchanted Way as Jonathan tried to convince Kaye that her daughter had probably just broken a bone.

The Stone Sapirs, who have two sons, Eli and Nathaniel, have lost their daughter. Molly died in hospital a few weeks later after multiple brain surgeries. She never regained consciousness. Now Molly lives on in a mural painted in May that adorns the Pierson Playhouse, a theater in the Pacific Palisades where she has starred in plays like Guys and Dolls and Peter Pan.

Time passed and the Stone Sapir’s mourning fog hardened. They are now targeting the larger issue of e-bike safety for children, and specifically the Seattle-based company whose e-bike Molly rode.

E-bike and scooter usage has surged across the country and in Los Angeles. Rad Power Bikes alone has nearly 500,000 riders on their e-bikes and is one of several major manufacturers.

As usage has skyrocketed, injuries have also risen across the country. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission found a steady 70% increase in injuries on e-scooters, e-bikes and hoverboards from 2017 to 2020. The commission reported 71 deaths nationwide during that period.

Bike safety in general has become a major issue in cities across the country, and campaigners are urging governments to do more to protect them from cars. Los Angeles responded with more bike lanes and some protective lanes, but critics say that’s not enough.

As more and more children use e-bikes, some communities have taken notice. Laguna Beach, for example, launched an education program for young people after officials noticed children racing through town.

E-bike enthusiasts argue that the machines are safe when used properly.

But the Stone Sapirs feel that not enough is being done to protect children.

“Rad Power Bikes just turned a blind eye to the fact that kids under 16, under 18 are using their products across the country,” Jonathan said. “They recognize that this is inappropriate, but they have shown us that they are not prepared to do anything about it.”

The lawsuit states that Rad Power Bikes — the largest e-bike company in North America that offers certain e-bikes with an additional seat for a passenger — is burying the fact that its RadRunner bike is not intended for use by anyone under the age of 18 should be operated buyer’s manual. The warning is listed on page 49 of 57.

Molly Steinsapir, center, with her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli

Molly Steinsapir, center, with her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli.

(Jonathan Stone Sapir)

“Carry your kids,” Rad Power Bikes’ website suggests parents, along with a photo of a child in the back seat of an e-bike riding with an adult.

While the company mostly posts photos of kids riding in the back seat, a 2020 Instagram image shows a young boy sitting alone in the front seat of a bike. When a commenter in the comments suggested that the company makes a “kid-sized bike,” the company replied, “Or a kid-sized bike.”

The Rad Power Bikes website also has numerous reviews from parents promoting their kids as young as 10 to ride their RadRunner e-bike without adults.

“It seats my 10 and 12 year old daughters as they drive up the very steep dirt road to my house,” one man wrote.

That’s the problem, argue the Stone Sapirs.

“Part of their appeal is that they take you places you wouldn’t normally be able to go, including uphill,” said Olivier Taillieu, the attorney who filed the lawsuit for the Stone Sapirs.

Molly and her friend had ridden all the way up the steep climb of the Enchanted Way and lost control of the e-bike as they raced back down.

Underage use of electric bicycles has been a problem since e-bikes and e-scooters hit the streets. While companies like Lime and Bird require drivers to be 18 and upload a driver’s license to rent an e-scooter, kids can get around the rules by using a parent’s account.

Riding minors isn’t necessarily a problem, experts say.

“Older teens, while still technically minors, may have responsibilities outside the home, like after-school jobs or caring for relatives or other responsibilities that require them to move,” said Sarah Kaufman, a professor who runs the Rudin Center New York University heads for transportation. “E-bikes can be especially helpful when someone commutes from school to work and then home.”

However, Kaufman added that fast e-bikes can be very dangerous for young people like Molly and that having a sticker on the bike indicating it’s for adults only could help discourage kids from riding it.

“You have a dangerous product that is operated by children,” Taillieu said.

A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir

A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir.

(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

The Stone Sapir suit also alleges possible mechanical issues with the RadRunner bike, saying that the machine’s “disc brakes” and “quick-release” front wheel mechanism are “a known safety hazard in the industry.”

Trek Bicycle Corp. recalled 1 million bikes in 2015 over a disc brake problem after three riders were injured – one paralyzed.

The lawsuit suggests that the RadRunner’s brake configuration caused the e-bike to “wobble” and shake when Molly’s friend pulled on the front handbrake.

“I miss my daughter more than anything… They say losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you and all I can say is that’s true. We’re going on, but it’s very difficult.”

-Jonathan Stone Sapir

Karissa Marsh says her 11-year-old son Rhett was unharmed on July 7 when the front wheel of the RadRunner he was riding in Manhattan Beach came off the bike, causing it to tip over the handlebars. He kind of landed on his feet, Marsh said.

“The bike literally just fell apart,” she added.

But the company took no responsibility for the incident and blamed it on the Marshes, she said. Rad Power Bikes did not immediately respond to questions about Rhett’s accident.

“Rad has to take responsibility,” Marsh said. “Stop blaming everyone else.”

In another incident in 2019, Coto de Caza’s Jennifer Fitzpatrick fell after failing to slow down her rental cycling e-bike while hurtling down a hill at the resort at Pelican Hill, she claimed in a lawsuit. Fitzpatrick, now 57, tried to get the bike down but couldn’t and was thrown from the bike and suffered a concussion and was briefly unconscious despite wearing a helmet, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County last year.

“She pushed the button repeatedly, but this [e-bike’s] Engine could not be turned off repeatedly, and the [e-bike] continued to gain speed, making it impossible for her to slow down,” says the suit.

“It was a horrible fall and just a split second later I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s Jennifer,'” said her husband Daniel Fitzpatrick, 64. “When I see these kids on e-bikes, I just imagine it ago if right now as I look at them the bike flipped over and they fell.

Rad Power Bikes, in its response to the lawsuit, argued that Jennifer Fitzpatrick “apparently never applied the brakes on the e-bike.”

Daniel Fitzpatrick said he wasn’t sure his wife hit the brakes.

“Cycling, whether electric, motorized or otherwise, is clearly a recreational activity with inherent risks of harm that cannot be eliminated from the activity without altering the activity’s fundamental nature. Falling off a bike is an inherent risk of riding,” lawyers for Rad Power Bikes wrote in court filings in the Fitzpatrick case.

The Fitzpatricks’ product liability and negligence case is scheduled to appear before a jury next year.

“Our experience is not isolated,” said Kaye Steinsapir.

“I miss my daughter more than anything. … They say losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you and all I can say is that’s true,” said Jonathan Steinsapir. “We’re going on, but it’s very difficult.”