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

A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir  on the exterior of the Pierson Playhouse
A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir, a 12-year-old who died in an e-bike crash, is seen on the exterior of the Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades.
(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)
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Enchanted Way is a little street in Pacific Palisades with breathtaking views of the ocean spread out below.

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

The couple filed suit this week against Rad Power Bikes, the burgeoning company whose product Molly Steinsapir was riding down the steep hill of Enchanted Way with a friend on Jan. 31, 2021. Steinsapir’s friend tried to brake as they sped downhill, but the bike did not stop, and instead the girls lost control and were thrown to the concrete, where Molly lay facedown, unresponsive, her helmet still on, according to the lawsuit.

“I used to walk there. I have not been up there since,” Jonathan Steinsapir, 44, said. “It’s a really beautiful street with beautiful ocean views. That’s why the girls rode up there that day. I don’t know if I avoided it at first. Now I kind of have because it brings on more and more meaning not having gone there since.”

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

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Rad Power Bikes declined to comment on the lawsuit and on questions about how it makes sure kids do not use its products meant for adults.

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

They were at home a few blocks away when a neighbor called and told them Molly had been in an accident.

Molly Steinsapir, center, with her parents and her two younger brothers
Molly Steinsapir, center, who died in an e-bike crash at age 12, with her parents, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir, and her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli.
(Steinsapir family)

As they pulled out of their driveway, an ambulance sped past, and they followed it to the scene. The couple said they bickered as they drove to Enchanted Way, with Jonathan trying to convince Kaye that their daughter had probably just broken a bone.

The Steinsapirs, who have two boys, Eli and Nathaniel, lost their daughter. Molly died in the hospital a few weeks later after several 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 acted in plays like “Guys and Dolls” and “Peter Pan.”

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Time passed and the Steinsapirs’ fog of mourning hardened. They are now taking aim at the larger issue of e-bike safety for children and specifically at the Seattle-based company whose e-bike Molly was riding.

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

As use has skyrocketed, so have injuries across the country. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission found a steady 70% rise in injuries on e-scooters, e-bikes, and hoverboards from 2017 to 2020. The commission reported 71 fatalities across the country over that period.

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

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

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

Turns out Bird’s user agreement tries to make riders responsible for their scooter accidents in L.A.

But the Steinsapirs feel not enough is being done to protect children.

“Rad Power Bikes has simply turned a blind eye to the fact that children under 16, under 18 are using their products all over the country,” Jonathan said. “They acknowledge that’s inappropriate, but they have shown us they’re not willing to do anything about it.”

The suit notes that Rad Power Bikes — the largest e-bike company in North America, offering certain e-bikes that feature an extra seat for a passenger — buries the fact that its RadRunner bike should not be operated by people under 18 deep in the buyer’s manual. The warning is listed on page 49 of 57.

Molly Steinsapir, middle, with her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli
Molly Steinsapir, middle, with her two younger brothers, Nathaniel and Eli.
(Jonathan Steinsapir)

“Carry your kids,” the Rad Power Bikes website suggests to parents along with a photo of a kid on the backseat of an e-bike riding with an adult.

While the company mostly posts photos of kids riding in the backseat, an Instagram picture from 2020 shows a young boy sitting in the front seat of a bike alone. When one commenter suggested in the comments that the company make a “child sized rad,” the company responded, “Or a Rad sized child.”

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The Rad Power Bikes website also features numerous reviews from parents who tout the fact that their children, as young as 10, ride their RadRunner e-bike without adults.

“It can accommodate my 10 and 12-year-old daughters as they ride up the very steep dirt road to my home,” wrote one man.

That’s exactly the problem, argue the Steinsapirs.

“Part of their appeal is they take you places you wouldn’t normally be able to go, which includes uphill,” said Olivier Taillieu, the lawyer who filed suit for the Steinsapirs.

As national and state parks change e-bike rules, an e-biker needs to ask a lot of questions and ride with care.

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

Minors using electric bikes has been an issue since e-bikes and e-scooters hit the streets. While companies like Lime and Bird require riders to be 18 and upload a driver’s license in order to rent an e-scooter, kids can circumvent the rules by using a parent’s account.

Underage riding is not necessarily a problem, experts say.

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

Kaufman added, however, that speedy e-bikes can be very dangerous for people as young as Molly and that a sticker on the bike noting it is for adult use only could help keep kids from riding.

Los Angeles-based URB-E aims to solve urban congestion and the emissions that come with it by swapping out delivery trucks with cargo e-bikes.

“You’ve got a dangerous product being operated by children,” Taillieu said.

A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir
A mural dedicated to Molly Steinsapir.
(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)
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The Steinsapirs’ suit also alleges possible mechanical issues with the RadRunner bike, saying 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 over a disc brakes issue in 2015 after three riders were injured — one paralyzed.

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

“I miss my daughter more than anything ... They say the loss of a child is like the worst thing that can possibly happen to you and all I can say is that’s true. We go on but it’s very difficult.”

— Jonathan Steinsapir

Karissa Marsh says her 11-year-old son Rhett was unharmed July 7 when the front wheel of the RadRunner he was riding in Manhattan Beach detached from the bike, sending him flipping over the handlebars. He somehow 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 the Marshes, she said. Rad Power Bikes did not immediately respond to questions about Rhett’s accident.

“Rad needs to take responsibility,” Marsh said. “Stop blaming everybody else.”

In another incident in 2019, Coto de Caza resident Jennifer Fitzpatrick crashed after she could not slow her rented Rad e-bike as she sped down a hill at the Resort at Pelican Hill, she claimed in a lawsuit. Fitzpatrick, now 57, tried to power the bike down but could not and was thrown from the bike and left concussed and briefly unconscious despite wearing a helmet, a lawsuit filed last year in Orange County claims.

Laguna Beach civic and educational leaders expressed a desire to emphasize e-bike education and safety as the mode of transportation continues to see an uptick in usage.

“She repeatedly pushed the button, but the [e-bike’s] motor repeatedly failed to shut down, and the [e-bike] continued to pick up speed, making it impossible for her to slow down,” the suit says.

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“It was a horrendous crash and just a split second later I thought, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Jennifer,’” said her husband, Daniel Fitzpatrick, 64. “When I look at these kids riding e-bikes I just envision if right now as I’m looking at them the bike tipped over and they crashed.”

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

Daniel Fitzpatrick said he was not sure if his wife applied the brakes.

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

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

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

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

VIDEO | 05:50
LA Times Today: Pacific Palisades girl died in an electric bike crash. Her parents’ warning

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.