Injured Conn. biker's Twitter followers call for ambulance
Tweet read: 'I've had a serious injury and NEED Help! Can someone please call Winding Trails in Farmington, CT tell them I'm stuck bike crash in woods'
By Liz Szabo
FARMINGTON, Conn. — As she flew over the handlebars of her mountain bike, seconds before slamming into the ground, Leigh Fazzina remembers thinking to herself: "I'm going to break my neck. And there is no one out here to help me."
Fazzina, 36, had gotten lost in a 300-acre Connecticut wood while competing in a mini-triathlon last Tuesday. She says she was racing downhill, trying to locate the main biking trail and rejoin her race, when her front wheel hit some tree roots.
After a painful landing in the dirt, Fazzina — bloodied, panicking and unable to walk — knew she needed help.
But the amateur Philadelphia cyclist, who was in Connecticut to visit relatives, had no idea where she was. She tried screaming for help. But the other mountain bikers, including a cousin who entered the race with her, were too far away to hear.
Fazzina says she tried calling another cousin on her cellphone but couldn't connect. Desperate, Fazzina tried Twitter, the social networking site, on which more than 1,000 "followers" had signed up to receive her tweets.
"I've had a serious injury and NEED Help!" she typed. "Can someone please call Winding Trails in Farmington, CT tell them I'm stuck bike crash in woods."
At least half a dozen people, most who had never met her, picked up their phones.
Mary-Ellen Harper, director of fire and rescue services for the Farmington Fire Department, says her department got calls from California, New York and Chicago.
Within minutes of sending her tweet, Fazzina says she heard an ambulance siren.
In areas such as state parks, with spotty cellphone coverage, it's not unusual for people to be able to send instant messages or 140-character tweets when they can't make voice calls, says David Redl of CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group.
"If you are at the edge of a (wireless) network, you'll have fringe coverage enough to get a text message through," Redl says.
Though Twitter has more than 125 million users, it's still an unusual way to summon emergency help. Crime victims have texted to call for help, and families have used Twitter to reconnect after disasters. But officials at Twitter, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and the American College of Emergency Physicians all say they don't know of anyone using Twitter to call for an ambulance.
A week after the scare, Fazzina is back in Philadelphia; she says she is still sore and badly bruised but has no broken bones. And while her injuries weren't serious, she says, she's still glad she didn't have to spend a night in the woods. She plans to go mountain biking again once she heals — but only on a path that she knows well. And only with her cellphone.
Copyright 2010 Gannett Company, Inc.