AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – Two people are dead and more than 20 others are hurt in Austin, after a suspected drunk driver blasted through barricades and down a street packed with people attending the South by Southwest Festival.
The incident started just after Midnight Thursday when police say a suspect was trying to avoid arrest and barreled down a street barricaded off for pedestrians. Many of those outside were concertgoers who had just left a venue that was part of the SXSW Festival.
Police officers were in the area, specifically looking for drunk drivers, when one of them suspected Rashad Charjuan Owens was impaired and tried to pull him over at a gas station on the Interstate-35 Service Road at 9th Street, not far from what would be the crash scene.
At some point, Owens put his turn signal on, like he was going to stop, but then took off, accelerating quickly.
Owens allegedly then turned onto Red River Street, one of the many streets barricaded off for SXSW Festival pedestrian traffic. The suspect hit several pedestrians on Red River Street, between 9th and 11th Streets. At the 11th Street intersection the suspect hit a moped, a taxicab and a bicyclist.
The deadly incident ended when the suspect drove onto a sidewalk and then a van. Police say Owens, 21, jumped out of the vehicle and ran but was soon caught by two Austin police officers who tased him and took him into custody.
♦♦♦ More SXSW Deadly Crash Coverage ♦♦♦
Over a span of three blocks victims were sitting on the sidewalk and lying on the pavement.
In video posted online by an eyewitness you can still hear bands playing in the background, unaware of the chaos in the street. One person said, “I just remember seeing people bouncing off the street.”
The deadly incident has put a dark cloud over the SXSW Festival, but organizers said they felt the event should continue.
SXSW managing director Roland Swensen said, “Like everyone else they would just like to go home. But I think we all feel some obligation to people who have traveled here from all over the world to keep moving forward.”
Local authorities agreed with the decision. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, “We cannot allow one individual, who through his selfish acts, cared only about one person, that was himself, to ruin a wonderful event, a worldwide event, a celebration.”
Most events will go on as scheduled but some individual music venues along Red River Street are still trying to decide how they will proceed.
The festival issued a statement expressing condolences for the victims.
The two confirmed dead are a man from the Netherlands and an Austin woman. The man 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr was riding a bicycle when he was hit. The woman, 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West, was a passenger on a moped.
Doctors at a hospital near the crash scene said most of the 23 injured were in their 20’s. As of Thursday afternoon, two people, including a teenager from Fort Worth, were in very critical condition.
During a press conference Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency room medical director at University Medical Center Brackenridge, said, “The two most critical patients I have a great deal and concern and worry about. We’re going to do our best for them, but these are some of the worst injuries that we see.”
Suspect Rashad Charjuan Owens, who pled guilty to Driving Under the Influence in Alaska, in 2011, is now facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of Aggravated Assault with a Vehicle.
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