Driver identified in deadly SXSW crash

CNN
Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 3:52pm

AUSTIN (CNN) — A crowded street at a popular festival in Austin, Texas, became a chaotic scene as a suspected drunk driver tore through the crowd, running over people and hitting other cars, leaving two people dead and others seriously injured.

Police eventually caught the driver after a foot chase, bringing him under control with a Taser. The 21-year-old suspect will be charged with two counts of capital murder, police said.

The suspect has been identified as Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21. Police department Public Information Officer Jennifer Herber said charges against Owens are forthcoming in the aftermath of the incident, which killed two people and injured several in a crowd at the South by Southwest festival in Austin.

Authorities have not released names of the dead, but they were a Dutch man on a bicycle and a local woman on a moped, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, correcting his earlier statement that the victims had been on a motorcycle.

MassiveMusic, a music agency with offices around the world, posted a statement on its website and Facebook page identifying the company's Amsterdam-based creative director, Steven Craenmehr, as a person killed Thursday in Austin.

"During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter," the Facebook post said. "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."

People were jamming the street listening to music just after midnight Wednesday when the driver, attempting to flee police, plowed through a barricade into the crowd.

Close calls for many

Some people escaped by a matter of inches.

Pablo Vazquez said the suspect drove right past him.

"The car barely missed me ... I was less than a foot away," Vazquez told CNN's "New Day."

"I saw some folks die."

"It looked like something out of a movie," said Russ Barone. "A few people lying on the street ... with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are."

He said the scene was grisly, with people bleeding in the streets.

"I've never seen nothing like it. I felt like I was at a war or something," Barone said. "I was down here for the music ... we were having the best time ever. And then it turned into the worst thing I've ever seen."

Dozens injured

Twenty-three others were hospitalized, some with multiple internal injuries. Most of the victims are in their 20s, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director at the University Medical Center Brackenridge emergency department.

"A few of the cases are quite severe," Ziebell said during a news conference, adding that he has concerns about the two most critical patients.

As of late Thursday morning, 15 of the 23 people hospitalized had been released, according to James Shamard, chief of staff for Austin-Travis County EMS. Two patients remain in "very critical" condition, three are in serious condition and receiving treatment, while three others remain hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, he said.

Ziebell said it was fortunate the incident occurred so close to the hospital, and he applauded the Travis County paramedics, who had just undergone training for a similar scenario, for their response.

Wrong-way driver

The driver will face two counts of capital murder -- Texas' highest offense punishable by the death penalty. The car hit pedestrians, a moped, a taxi, a bicycle and a van, Acevedo said.

The suspect also will face 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, Acevedo said.

Austin police identified the suspect as is Rashad Charjuan Owens. Police department Public Information Officer Jennifer Herber told CNN Thursday afternoon that formal charges against Owens were forthcoming.

The incident began when an officer noticed a man driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street shortly after midnight.

A patrol officer attempted to stop the car near a crowded gas station, Acevedo said. The driver, the chief said, acted as if he was pulling over into the gas station, but he continued through the parking lot and exited, accelerating down the street.

The officer attempting to pull him over couldn't follow him because the parking lot was so crowded, so he had to back his patrol car out, Acevedo said. Another officer working barricade control had to jump out of the driver's way as he accelerated for about two blocks, striking pedestrians and vehicles, the chief said.

A foot chase ensued, and an officer eventually caught the driver and used his Taser to subdue him, Acevedo said.

The incident lasted one minute, police said.

Horrific scenes

Photos and video posted to social media showed people sprawled on a street for about a block with first-responders kneeling over them. In one instance, paramedics are seen performing CPR.

Witnesses on a YouTube video said the car sped through the crowd, tossing some victims into the air and knocking others down.

Acevedo urged those posting videos on social media to turn them over to authorities instead.

South by Southwest is an annual event that features film, interactive and music festivals, and draws tens of thousands of people to the Texas capital every year.

In a statement on its website, SXSW organizers commended the first-responders and city agencies that assisted them and said their thoughts and prayer were with the victims and those affected.

"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." the statement said.

CNN first learned of the incident via posts on Twitter.

CNN's Justin Lear, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Jason Hanna, Jessica Moskowitz, Ben Brumfield, Cristy Lenz and Maria White contributed to this report.

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