If you are into music, film, technology, networking, and large crowds, SXSW is the place for you. It’s an extraordinary time for anyone to discover new artists, new projects, and possibly make some new friends and/or connections while soaking up the huge street festival style vibe.
Early Thursday morning a 21-year-old driver took away from that experience by plowing into a crowd of people. He killed two people and left two other in critical condition according to Austin, TX authorities. Police Chief Art Acevedo says a suspected drunk driver’s actions were intentional when he plowed through the unsuspecting group of SXSW attendees.
KVUE’s Tony Plohetski has confirmation from two sources that the suspect is Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21. Police have not yet released his name, but say he will be charged with capital murder and aggravated assault with a vehicle.
The Police Chief is reporting that officers initially tried to pull Owens over at a gas station on the Interstate 35 service road around 12:30 a.m. Thursday because he was apparently driving a vehicle that had been reported as stolen.
The 21-year-old driver tried to get away from the officers by driving the wrong way down 9th Street, which is a one-way street, and turned onto Red River, going through a barricade set up for SXSW. A police officer near the barricade was forced to jump out-of-the-way as Owens turned and drove through a group of festival goers near The Mohawk night club at a high rate of speed according to Chief Acevedo
Owens was still not done. In his attempt to flee, he also crashed into a cyclist, then a moped and a taxi. He ended up driving into a parking lot and hitting a parked van. Police say Owens started running away on foot before officers used a stun gun on him and arrested him.
Police are reporting the male cyclist was killed and the woman who was riding the moped was also killed but the driver of the moped was sent to the hospital. 23 others were injured in Owen’s getaway attempt. Chief Acevedo mentioned that Owen’s actions were intentional.
“This is an individual who showed no regard for the human beings he plowed through,” he said.
University Medical Center Brackenridge’s ER Medical Director Dr. Chris Ziebell says Owens was taken to the hospital and treated for minor injures. He was then released into police custody. Dr. Ziebell stated that Owen’s Blood Alcohol Content level was tested, as is procedure. The result has not yet been released.
As for the living victims, many of the suffered leg and spinal fractures as well as other injuries and are all being treated at the time.
Austin police are asking witnesses to call police at 512-974-5186. Those checking on loved ones can call the Red Cross at 800-928-4271 or go here.
Police Chief Art Acevedo commended people on the scene for helping when the crash occurred.
“The best of humanity, SXSW, everybody came together to restore order,” he said.
SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson says this is the first tragedy like this to occur during the festival’s 27 years. He says the festival will continue as scheduled for the rest of the day. The Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie’s are discussing how to proceed.
When asked about Lady Gaga’s show, which is scheduled for Stubb’s Thursday night, Swenson said it would cause more problems to move the show to another venue.
SXSW Festival organizers released this statement on their website:
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragic accident that took place last night here in Austin. We appreciate and commend the first responders, as well as the city agencies who so quickly sprung into action. We will be making schedule and venue changes for programming in the surrounding area of last night’s events. All other programming will continue as previously scheduled. Please watch this website and twitter.com/sxsw for updates throughout the day.”