SXSW crash said to be intentional; car reportedly stolen

1:58 PM, Mar 13, 2014   |    comments
Credit: Matt Olsen / KVUE
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AUSTIN, Texas (KVUE) -- Police Chief Art Acevedo says a suspected drunk driver's actions were intentional when he plowed through a group of pedestrians and killed two people during the South By Southwest Festival.

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.

Acevedo said officers initially tried to pull Owens over at a gas station on the Interstate 35 service road around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Fort Hood officials tell KVUE that the Toyota he was driving was reported stolen in Killeen.

Owens fled the wrong way down 9th Street, which is a one-way street, and turned onto Red River, going through a barricade set up for the South By Southwest Festival.

A police officer near the barricade was forced to jump out of the way as Owens turned and drove through a group of pedestrians near The Mohawk night club at a "high rate of speed," Chief Acevedo said.

When Owens got to the intersection of 11th Street and Red River, he 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.

Acevedo told KVUE that the cyclist, a man from the Netherlands, was killed. According to MassiveMusic's Facebook page, the man was an employee named Steven Craenmehr, 35. The company described him as an "unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter." MassiveMusic has canceled its Thursday night event. Read more here.

An Austin woman riding on the moped was also killed. The man driving the moped was taken to the hospital and is in stable condition.

Twenty-three others were injured. Most of the victims are said to be in their 20s. Some were Austin residents, while others were from out of town.

The Associated Press reports that the street was full of concert-goers just minutes before the crash, but officials had cleared the area because it was a fire lane.

"We had a large crowd," Acevedo said. "I just thank God that a lot of the folks had already been pushed on the sidewalk or this could have been a lot worse."

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.

Eight patients were taken to UMC Brackenridge. Dr. Ziebell says three people are in serious condition and in the ICU. Two people have head injuries, and the director said he has a "great deal of concern and worry" for those two patients.

The other serious patients are said to have spinal fractures and leg injuries. The hospital says its close proximity to the crash scene helped emergency officials arrive quickly.

Thirteen victims were taken to St. David's South Austin Medical Center, and four were taken to St. David's Medical Center. Thirteen of them have been treated and released. One person is still in serious condition.

EMS Chief James Shamard said all critical patients were transported from the scene within 15 minutes.

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 for updates throughout the day."

St. David's Episcopal Church says it will hold a prayer vigil at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for the victims of the crash. The church is located at 301 East 8th Street.

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