AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Fleeing police, a driver gunned a gray Honda Civic through a street barricade and into a crowd of South By Southwest festival attendees early Thursday, killing two people, injuring 23 others and casting a pall over one of the nation’s hippest celebrations of music, movies and technology.
The driver struck multiple pedestrians around 12:30 a.m. on a block filled with concertgoers, then sped down the street, hitting and killing a man from the Netherlands on a bicycle and an Austin woman on a moped, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said. The driver eventually crashed into a parked van and tried to flee on foot before police used a stun gun to subdue him.
Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, will face two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle, Austin police said Thursday afternoon in a statement. Formal charges are still pending. The statement did not provide a city of residence.
Police said the incident started when an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop a vehicle. Acevedo indicated the suspect was drunk, but drunken driving was not among the charges police said Owens would face. Acevedo said investigators have obtained blood samples and were testing them.
Public records obtained by The Associated Press show that Owens had a previous conviction in Alaska for drunken driving and one in Texas for criminal trespassing.
“The bottom line is, when somebody’s acting intentionally, and this is a person that was trying to get away, it’s very difficult to stop,” Acevedo said, adding later: “It’s clear for me from his actions, from what I’ve seen, that this is an individual who showed no regard for the human beings that he plowed through in his attempt to get away.”
Acevedo said the crash transformed Red River Street - which is on the northeast edge of an Austin entertainment district that’s packed at all hours of the day and night during South By Southwest - into “basically a very long crime scene.”
The crash was loud enough to shake the living room of Kirk Visser’s condo, two stories up.
“I knew I had heard metal on a body,” said the 47-year-old, who stepped out on his balcony to see people screaming and running in all directions.
Hours later, a pool of blood and bits of broken taillight were still in a crosswalk at the scene, with a trail of crimson droplets leading to the sidewalk. Still, concertgoers streamed in for another day of festivities, and by early afternoon, bass boomed through the area as bands played scheduled concerts nearby.
Now in its 27th year, South By Southwest has grown from a small showcase for up-and-coming bands to an international extravaganza, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors and top music and Hollywood stars. Acevedo said the festival had never experienced a similar deadly incident before.
Roland Swenson, the festival’s managing director, said events would continue “through this tragic time.”
“I think it would probably cause more problems for everyone to show up and be turned away from a show than to just move ahead,” Swenson said.
Three people were in critical condition Thursday afternoon, up from two earlier in the day.