James W. Heselden, a British businessman who invented and sold fortification containers for flood control and military protection and who owned the company that makes Segway electric scooters, died Sunday after plunging from a cliff in West Yorkshire, the police said, apparently while touring his property on a Segway. He was 62.
His body was found late Sunday morning after a passer-by reported seeing a man plummet 30 feet into the River Wharfe, the police said, adding that a “Segway-style vehicle” had also been found, The New York Times’s Sarah Lyall and Julia Werdigier write.
They did not say what had caused the accident.
Mr. Heselden was born in Leeds, in modest circumstances, and left school at 15. He worked as a coal miner, lost his job after the 1984 miners’ strike, and used his severance pay to start Hesco Bastion, which manufactures the Hesco barriers he invented in 1990.
The barriers — galvanized-steel mesh baskets rising to chest height that can be filled with dirt — were originally developed as flood control devices, and have been used in places like New Orleans and Iowa. Light, portable and easy to assemble, they have also replaced sandbags as a feature of virtually every defensive barrier deployed by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are standard equipment for NATO.
In recent years, Mr. Heselden has appeared on the Sunday Times of London’s list of 1,000 richest people in Britain. A passionate philanthropist, he donated almost $16 million to the Leeds Community Foundation earlier this month, bringing his total lifetime donations to charity to more than $36 million.
“Life has turned out pretty well for me,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post, “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.
The two-wheeled Segway personal transporter, which operates on electricity and changes direction according to the way its driver tilts, was invented by Dean Kamen in 2001. Matt Dailida, vice president for government affairs at Segway, said that Mr. Heselden was “a Segway p.t. owner long before he bought the company,” in December 2009.
Mr. Dailida said that Segway was still trying to find out more about what caused Mr. Heselden to go off the cliff. Mr. Heselden is survived by his wife, Julie; five children, and eight grandchildren.