SXSW Accident: Music Industry Eyewitnesses Say It Was 'Like a Video Game'
John Doe of the band X, British singer-songwriter Kieran Leonard, film producer Lavinia Jones Wright and more share first-hand accounts of the fest's fatal accident.
Billboard has spoken with artists and others who were at or around the scene of the fatal car crash on Red River Street in Austin during South by Southwest.
John Doe of the band X says the group's first reaction to Thursday morning's deadly car crash, which occurred outside the band's SXSW show at The Mohawk on Austin's Red River Street, was disbelief and shock. Doe tells Billboard that the group knew something was awry when it finished its set and patrons were not allowed to leave the club. The group was subsequently told about the incident by its road manager.
"Obviously we were hoping the fewest number of people were involved, then someone made an announcement that everyone had to leave and that there was no danger outside and that there had been a serious accident," Doe recalls.
Doe said that he and the other X members filed out with the crowd while the group's crew and gear had to remain at The Mohawk until 3 a.m. because police had cordoned off the area. Doe has two more shows for each of the remaining days of the fest and says he expects SXSW to go on. "Like any tragedy, people will go forward and be a little more careful and wary of their surroundings," he says.
British singer-songwriter Kieran Leonard, who was in Austin to play several SXSW shows, gave this account of the incident: "It was very, very sudden," he said. "We were at the corner of Red River heading to the Kurt Vile show [at Cheer Up Charlie's]. We'd just stepped off the curb onto the street when what I saw initially was a guy turning into a boxed-off road, but he hit a guy on a skateboard. That guy went up in the air. Mitch [Wilson, manager], Jenny [O., musician] and I pressed ourselves into a parked car. He passed by us no more than six inches from our backs. We turned and watched him careen down the road. The most chilling thing to me -- it seemed like he was deliberately swerving to try to hit people, sort of like a video game."
"There was total bewilderment," he continued. "Kurt Vile was playing loudly on a stage on the side of the road -- there were people screaming in the street, and everyone else who was entering Red River had no idea what happened. You don't expect to see 13 injured people on the road. It was so sudden, and there was no way of explaining to people what happened … The police were on the scene in 60 seconds. They were there very quickly. We tried to aid the person that was hit directly in front of us, but three people had already rushed to him. He was OK. Unfortunately the people further up the street were less OK because they were hit at much bigger speed. We tried to stagger up the street and get back to the hotel as soon as possible."
Leonard's manager Wilson (of Painted Black Management) was also headed to Cheer Up Charlie's at the time of the accident and gave this account: "We were just crossing the street, following the music. As we got to the halfway point on the street, we heard a car turn around the corner. When we looked around, we saw a guy just behind us crossing the street. The car ran into him, he rolled up the bonnet and bounced off the windscreen, but was OK. There was a police car trailing that then turned on his sirens. The car in front then sped up and put his foot down on the gas. Up ahead was a mass group of people on Red River and he was just getting faster and faster. He hit the first wave of people at the back of the group. We just saw a half a dozen of them get tossed up in the air over the car. He didn't slow down."
"And then a few feet later, he hit another line of people in a group. They also got tossed up in the air. The police car was following behind. People were rushing to help the ones who got knocked. He only got faster. It just didn't really look real. It looked like something out of a movie, the way the bodies were getting thrown into the air. It was like watching evil. At no point did he break or slow down; he just wanted to get away. He seemed to be driving well for someone who was drunk -- it's hard to say. It just seemed like he wanted to get away and there was no consideration for anyone other than himself."
Lavinia Jones Wright, producer of the film The 78 Project, which premiered at SXSW this week, was standing on top of The Mohawk and was watching the scene as police arrived. "It was chaos because there were so many people spread out over two blocks," she said. "They were moving really fast to identify who was injured the most and tend to as many people as possible. The Mohawk was evacuated onto 10th Street."
Complex associate editor Insanul Ahmed, also an eyewitness of the incident, made this report on Complex.com: "There were several lines [outside of the venue]. I was standing on the left side with the badge-holders … That car zoomed right past me. Cops were already in pursuit. Two more feet and that could have been us. Cops seemed mindful though, seemed like they slowed down and once they got past the crowd they sped up. It all happened so fast though."
Pigeons and Planes' editor Jacob Moore gave this report: "A car sped by, a few feet from where we were standing, hitting multiple people at high speed. It kept going and left a trail of bodies behind it. People rushed to the bodies, some motionless, and the next few minutes were chaos until ambulances and police officers showed up to move people away from the scene. Punk music continued to play, people were crying, one man jumped on top of a golf cart and screamed the name of his friend. Everyone was panicked."
"It's hard to imagine the rest of this SXSW week not being affected by what happened tonight," he continued, "especially for those who were there to see it happen."
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.