SXSW Car Accident Leaves 2 Dead, 23 Injured

The accident scene
The accident scene
 AP

Two people were killed early Thursday morning at the SXSW festival in Austin after a suspected drunken driver fleeing arrest crashed into them, police said.

The deceased include a woman from the Austin area, who was struck on a moped, and a man from the Netherlands, who was struck on a bicycle. Both were pronounced dead on the scene. In addition, the driver left 23 people injured, five of whom are still in critical condition, police said. As of 11 a.m. central time, eight patients were still in the hospital, including the critically injured victims and three more seriously injured people, who may be receiving surgery, Austin EMS chief of staff James Shamard said at a press conference that began shortly before 11 a.m. central time in Austin.

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The additional 15 people who were injured were taken to the hospital after the incident but had been released by the 11 a.m. press conference. The five patients in critical condition are all at University Medical Center in Breckinridge, Shamard said. The additional three patients are at other hospitals in the area.

On Thursday afternoon, Austin police released the name of the driver as Rashad Charjuan Owens, a 22-year-old black male He was arrested, but formal charges are still pending. They also released the names of the victims apart from three females and one male who had yet to be identified.

The victims include Evan West, 29; Joseph McCraney, 26; Mason Endres, 18; Kartisha Davis, 18; Greg Cerna, 19; April Martinez, 29; Ryan Freeman, 20; Johannes Hailu, 39; Maria Belyvia, 20; Carolyn Grace, 19; Jeff Chenzer, 29; Ashley Easley, 20; Jacob Gallegos, 20; Erica Hall, 19; Jane Henderson, 24; William Josma, 29; Juan Leura, 20; Jaqueline Longhurst, 21; and Alexis Zamarippa, 17.

The incident began around 12:30 a.m. local time Thursday morning in Austin, when a police officer searching for drunk drivers tried to stop a car at a gas station, Austin police chief Art Acevedo said at an early-morning news conference. Instead, the driver tried to evade the cops, ultimately speeding the wrong way on a one-way street on 9th Street, where he struck multiple pedestrians and crashed through a barricade set up for SXSW. The driver continued down Red River St., hitting multiple people. When he got to 11th Street, he hit a man and a woman on a moped. The driver also crashed into a taxi and a parked van before he exited the vehicle and tried to flee on foot. A police officer overtook the driver and tased him to take him into custody, Acevedo said.

Although the woman on the moped was pronounced dead on the scene, the man on the moped is still in critical condition, Acevedo revealed at the press conference.

The driver will be charged with two counts of capital murder, based on Texas law. He will also be charged with 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. The name and age of the driver have not yet been released, and the name can't be released until he's charged, according to Texas law, Acevedo said. But the Austin police department revealed that the driver is a black male adult. It's unknown what vehicle he was driving. Information related to the driver's blood alcohol level will be released as soon as it's available.

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A tweet from the APD added, "The names of the deceased will not be released until proper notifications have been made."

MassiveMusic, an agency with offices in New York, LA, Amsterdam, London and Shanghai, posted a statement on its website that one of its employees died at SXSW.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our close friend and colleague Steven Craenmehr, 35, on March 13th, 2014 at SXSW," the statement read. "During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter. This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven's family and friends."

The Austin police department has asked witnesses to contact the police department instead of putting info on the Internet. Witnesses or those with any information about the events overnight should call (512) 974-5186.

"This is extremely rare," a police officer told The Hollywood Reporter of the severity of the accident. "In all the years of [hosting] South by Southwest, we've never seen anything like this." Indeed, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said at the 11 a.m. press conference that this is the first time in the 27-year history of the festival that they've had an incident of this kind.

At the press conference, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said that although the SXSW staff is stunned and deeply moved by the incident, the festival's daytime events will continue as scheduled. Meanwhile, they're contacting venues to see if they've made decisions about operations. Swenson added that as much as he and others associated with the festival want to go home and mourn what happened, he feels an obligation to people who come from all over to the festival to continue. Swenson also posted a statement to the SXSW website.

Acevedo echoed those remarks, saying that the police department urged SXSW to continue with the festival.

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"We cannot allow one individual, who with his selfish acts and cared only about … himself, to ruin a wonderful event, a worldwide event that is a celebration of life, a celebration of music," Acevedo said. "I think if we were to cancel events, it would be a victory for evil and not a victory for humanity."

Specific updates about events can be found here.

Several of the pedestrians were struck outside The Mohawk, which is located on Red River Street between 9th and 10th streets. On Wednesday night, the venue played host to a House of Vans event featuring The Black Angels and X. Late act Tyler the Creator was set to perform but tweeted that he had to cancel his show after the incident. The Mohawk also tweeted that their thoughts and prayers were with the families of the victims and that due to the accident, Thursday night's shows and events have been canceled. The venue later added that all events scheduled for this afternoon are canceled.

Leffingwell also released the following statement obtained by the Austin-American Statesman and other media outlets: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, as well as those being treated in [three] area hospitals … [If allegations that drunken driving played a role in the tragedy are true,] this fact angers me. Drunk driving is never acceptable and can lead to deadly consequences."

Wednesday marked the first full night of the music portion of South by Southwest. Headlining acts performing around town included Jay Z and Kanye West, who teamed up for a Samsung event; Spandau Ballet, who performed their first U.S. show in 28 years; and Damon Albarn, who was on the bill at the NPR showcase at nearby Stubb's.

Also not far from the scene of the accident: Lady Gaga, who was spotted taking in a set by Semi Precious Weapons at Rusty's on 7th Street just after midnight.

As word spread, the all-night party atmosphere seemed to have subsided while police cleared the streets of revelers (see photo, above right).

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