Two Dead, 23 Injured After Car Drives Into Crowd At SXSW

The vehicle operator will be charged with two counts of capital murder

sxsw crash accident car fatal deaths dead 2014
The scene on Red River Street, shortly after the incident Photo by Camille Dodero
WRITTEN BY
Camille Dodero

UPDATE: Austin police have identified the driver of vehicle involved in the fatal SXSW tragedy as Rashad Owens. More to come. A fund has also been set up to help people affected by the event. For more information on the SXSW Cares Fund and to make a donation, visit sxswcares.com.

Early Thursday morning in Austin, Texas, March 13, a gray Toyota plowed into a crowd of people downtown, during the SXSW music conference and festival. Two people died and 23 were rushed to local hospitals. Five were initially reported to be in critical condition.

At an 10:30 a.m. press conference following the incident, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the investigation is fully underway and advancing quickly. The suspect, who has been formally booked, was initially identified only as a black adult male. Only two patients remain in critical condition, while the other three have improved substantially. Eight patients remain in the hospital, and 15 have been treated and released.

You can find the official statement from SXSW at the bottom of this post, followed by footage from the early Thursday press conference addressing the tragedy.

Here's what led to the fatal crash. Immediately before 12:30 a.m. along Interstate 35, an Austin police officer working for a DWI unit initiated a traffic stop with the vehicle. The suspect tried to evade the officer by driving into a busy gas station, swerving through the maze of cars, and emerging on Ninth Street, where he turned the wrong way onto Red River, a closed-off one-way street.

Then the Toyota accelerated, barreling past a police-manned barricade and into more than 20 pedestrians. Rande Kamolz, a musical-artist manager who'd been on the patio at the nearby Mohawk bar, saw the car plow through the people from the balcony. "I saw people bouncing off cars," he said. "It hit at least 20 people."

The suspect, whose windshield was cracked, continued north, where his vehicle hit a moped and a taxi near East 11th Street, before crashing into a parked van. He then jumped out of the car and attempted to flee the scene on foot. The arresting officer tased the suspect to detain him.

The male and female adults pronounced dead at the scene were not sharing a moped, as the Austin Police said earlier today. Rather, the woman, identified by KVUE as 27-year-old Austin resident Jamie West, was on the moped. The other fatality was cyclist Steven Craenmehr, a 35-year-old employee of MassiveMusic from the Netherlands

In a press conference held early this morning (video here), Chief Acevedo announced plans to charge the driver with two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. If convicted of the former, the suspect could face the death penalty.

Parts of Red River are still an active crime scene and will be closed for most of Thursday.

"Austin definitely has a drunk-driving problem," Lt. Derek Galloway, the head of the DWI Unit for the APD’s Highway Enforcement Command, told the Austin Monthly last year. "Your biggest issues are in the downtown area."

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SXSW representative Kelly Krause released the following statement:

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.

UPDATE: The Mohawk has cancelled Thursday's day party, which was sponsored by Vans and to be curated by Stereogum, which is part of the SpinMedia family.

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