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Image: Jimi Heselden
Rossparry.co.uk/syndication - Yorkshire Post
Millionaire owner of Segway firm, Jimi Heselden, who died in freak accident on Sunday.
msnbc.com
updated 9/27/2010 12:40:59 PM ET 2010-09-27T16:40:59

A British businessman who bought the Segway company less than a year ago died after riding one of the scooters off a cliff and into a river near his Yorkshire estate.

Jim Heselden, known locally as Jimi,acquired the Segway company from its U.S. inventor Dean Kamen in December 2009.

According to the British media, Heselden, 62, plunged into the River Wharfe while riding a rugged country version of the two-wheeled transporter on Sunday.

Police said a witness had reported seeing a man fall over a 30-foot drop into the river near Boston Spa, 140 miles north of London.

"Police were called at 11.40 a.m. yesterday to reports of a man in the River Wharfe, apparently having fallen from the cliffs above," a spokesman told The Daily Mail.

A Segway was recovered from the scene. "At this time we do not believe the death to be suspicious," the spokesman added.

"It is with great sadness that we have to confirm that Jimi Heselden has died in a tragic accident near his home in West Yorkshire," his company, Hesco Bastion, said in a statement.

A dozen members of Heselden's family asked for privacy Monday after placing flowers at the heavily wooded accident site, which is popular with hikers and nature lovers.

Heselden was worth around $265 million and ranked 395th on the Sunday Times Rich List.

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Leading philanthropist
On Sept. 18, the Yorkshire Post reported that Heselden had donated $36 million of his fortune to charity, making him one of Britain’s leading philanthropists.

Most recently, he gave $15 million to the Leeds Community Foundation, which helps disadvantaged parts of the north of England city.

"Jimi was an amazing man who, apart from being a wonderful success story for Leeds due to his business acumen, was also remarkably selfless and generous, giving millions to local charities to help people in his home city," said Tom Riordan, the chief executive of Leeds City Council.

Heselden himself came from poor beginnings in Leeds and left school at the age of 15 to work in the mines.

Story: Segway scooters can lead to serious injuries, experts warn

He got his break in 1990 when he invented a concertina design for wire cage walls, which are used by the military to protect bases and also for flood protection. The headquarters of his firm is a short distance from Heselden's childhood home.

Heselden was appreciative of his good fortune, but always remembered his own tough beginnings.

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"There are a lot of families out there who are struggling and a lot of youngsters who have grown up without role models and who can't get jobs,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

"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."

The battery-powered Segway, which is stabilized by gyroscopes, was invented by Kamen, who founded the New Hampshire-based company in 1999.

The Segway gained some notoriety in 2003 when then President George W. Bush stumbled when he took it for a brief ride in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Segway owner dies in accident

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