Vigilante sought to rid Franklin Street of e


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Oct 12, 2023

Vigilante sought to rid Franklin Street of e

EVANSVILLE — There are few issues more polarizing in America's cities than

EVANSVILLE — There are few issues more polarizing in America's cities than e-scooters, the battery-powered two-wheelers that allow people of all ages to zip around for a few blocks for a small fee. Evansville is no exception.

Marion McBride, 70, fell into the camp who hates the things, according to the Evansville Police Department, who said McBride took it upon himself to rid Evansville's nightlife district of the scooters by setting them ablaze.

Police arrested McBride on Monday afternoon and urged prosecutors to charge him with arson, a Level 4 felony. His arrest followed a spate of suspicious e-scooter fires near West Franklin Street.

McBride does not have any previous criminal convictions in Indiana, according to court records.

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"In front of Smitty's Italian Steakhouse, there were nine e-scooters set on fire," EPD detective Jackie Lowe wrote in a probable cause affidavit detailing a Feb. 24 incident. "Beside Kite and Key Restaurant there were four set on fire, and beside First Federal Savings Bank, there were four e-scooters set on fire."

Within a week, officers determined three more scooters had been set on fire, this time along North Wabash Avenue. A search was now on for the arsonist.

The owner of Kite and Key Restaurant supplied video footage of the Feb. 24 incident to the EPD, according to Lowe. So did the West Side Nut Club. The footage appeared to show a gold, extended-cab Ford Ranger in the vicinity of each fire, police said.

"A white male wearing a dark colored hoodie exits the driver's door and makes his way to the three scooters," officer Zach Elfreich wrote in a supplemental police report. "The male was carrying unknown items and can be seen setting the items on the scooter."

Moments later, the scooters could be seen bursting into flames, Elfreich said.

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Adding intrigue to the spate of scooter fires was a handwritten note the suspect, who police later identifed as McBride, left behind.

"Fifteen stolen last year; I threw them in Pigeon Creek; set fire to 19 more; about 150 damaged in many ways," the note states, according to police. "U will never profit; I will not stop – Get off Franklin."

The arsonist added that they had not "bothered any other locations," but that would change "if you don't leave," referring to the scooter companies operating in Evansville, such as Bird and Lime.

The gold Ford Ranger was a distinct enough vehicle, but the license plate was obscured by its tailgate, according to Lowe's affidavit. Multiple videos captured by surveillance cameras led police to an apartment in the 1200 block of Western Hills Avenue. Outside, officers reportedly found the gold Ford Ranger pickup truck.

Lowe drove to the apartment and spoke with McBride.

"I asked him if he ever gets upset seeing things laying around the area like bicycles or scooters," Lowe said. "(McBride) stated he was from Nashville and the scooters were 'everywhere.'"

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McBride reportedly denied being behind the scooter fires. The Ford Ranger captured in surveillance footage? It looked more green than gold to McBride, Lowe wrote.

He also denied being the man captured in surveillance footage setting the scooters on fire.

The micro-mobility devices hit Evansville streets in late 2019. Since then, the scooters have retained their place on downtown sidewalks, quiet neighborhood streets and outside hotels and venues.

According to Bird and Lime, two of the largest micro-mobility companies operating in Evansville, the scooters are designed to be ridden on the road, not sidewalks or bike lanes. Users also must be at least 18 years old and are encouraged to wear a helmet.

A search of police reports did little to corroborate McBride's alleged claim in the handwritten note that he has damaged more than 150 scooters, but there are other reported incidents of the scooters being vandalized or stolen.

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In April 2022, local scooter rental business JoyPunkZ reported that 15 of their scooters had been stolen over a three-week period. Owners Steve Dean and Rebecca Weaver estimated the thefts resulted in an $18,000 loss.

Others have criticized the device's without resorting to setting them on fire or stealing them. In September 2021, representatives of the Old Evansville Historic Association decried the scooters as "mechanical litter."

Under Indiana law, cities cannot outright ban e-scooters, but they are able to regulate them. Evansville passed a scooter ordinance in 2019, shortly after their arrival in the city. The ordinance stipulates the scooters be subject to the same rules as any road vehicle and requires companies to secure a license from the city.

Houston Harwood can be contacted at [email protected]

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