US teen’s missing AirPod leads to arrest of driver accused of hitting him

A silver SUV that the authorities said Swing was driving when he struck Lochlan as he was riding his bicycle in Jensen Beach on May 22, 2024. Lochlan’s AirPod landed inside the vehicle, allowing investigators to track down the driver. — Martin County Sheriff's Office via The New York Times

Lochlan Nicol, 15, of Jensen Beach, Florida, was biking to a gas station and convenience store near his home to buy ice cream last week when a driver heading in the opposite direction suddenly turned into the station and hit him, he said.

It was about 10.30pm on May 22, and Lochlan was hit so hard that his head crashed through the rear passenger-side window, breaking his nose, cheekbone and eye socket, and knocking him unconscious.

The driver pulled Lochlan out of the road, left him outside the gas station and then drove away, according to Sheriff William D. Snyder of Martin County.

What the driver didn’t know was that he had driven away with a tracking device – the AirPod that Lochlan had been wearing, which had been knocked out of his ear and had lodged under a floor mat inside the car, Snyder said.

Using the AirPod’s location-tracking feature, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that Peter Bradford Swing, 49, of Jensen Beach had been arrested and charged with failing to stop at the scene of a crash with great bodily injury, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“It was that earbud that provided geotracking right to the suspect’s Jensen Beach home,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Deputies found the silver Hyundai Santa Fe involved in the crash behind Swing’s house, with a broken rear passenger-side window, the sheriff’s office said.

“It was just a fluke,” Snyder said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s no moral to the story. It was one of those things. It was a good break for us, a real good break.”

Swing told investigators that he had served prison time on drug charges and had fled the scene because he began to panic, the sheriff’s office said. Swing, who posted a US$150,000 (RM706,725) bond after his arrest, could not be reached at a number listed under his name, and it was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.

After the crash, Lochlan was taken by helicopter to a hospital and treated for his injuries, which also included a deep gash in his knee that required 15 staples to close.

He said he realised he had lost his AirPod after his girlfriend went to the scene of the crash and found his phone, his watch, his wallet and his AirPod case with only one AirPod inside.

Lochlan said he opened the app on his phone to find where the missing AirPod was, and it showed an address about four miles away. The family called the sheriff’s office, which arrested Swing at that address.

“It’s honestly amazing,” Lochlan’s father, Derek Nicol, said, adding: “People say it’s karma. So maybe it’s karma that it happened. It’s just weird.”

Lochlan said he had been worried that investigators might not find the driver who hit him, although the sheriff’s office said it had been narrowing the search based on security camera images of the silver sport utility vehicle that left the scene.

“He could have been hiding anywhere,” Lochlan said in an interview Tuesday, “and then it was like, ‘Oh, my AirPod just tracked him straight down’.”

Lochlan, who was not wearing a helmet when he was hit but had a light on his bicycle, said he had been told it could be months before he is fully healed. Both he and his father said the crash, which happened on the last day of his freshman year of high school, could have been much worse.

“He realised he’s pretty lucky,” Nicol said. “It’s started to sink in that he could have been killed.” – The New York Times

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