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Two Dead After Driver Plows Into SXSW Crowd; Suspect in Custody

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Summary: An Austin woman and a male visitor from the Netherlands are dead after a car plowed through South by Southwest crowds in Downtown Austin early this morning. The collisions took place along Red River Street near The Mohawk,a popular SXSW venue. Nearly two dozen were injured. 

Austin Police have a suspect in custody, 21 year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens. He's been charged with two counts of capital murder.

The Austin victim is 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West, according to several news reports, includingone from the Austin American-Statesman. 

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters Thursday morning that the incident started as a traffic stop (part of police efforts to crack down on drunk drivers) at the Shell Gas station at Ninth Street and the Interstate 35 frontage road. Chief Acevedo says the driver drove into the gas station parking lot, but then sped off and started driving the wrong way down Ninth Street.

APD pursued the driver, who then tried to strike one officer working barricade duty, and continued speeding onto Red River. Acevedo says the driver hit multiple pedestrians on the street, killing two on vehicles: an Austin female that was a passenger on a moped, and  a male visitor from the Netherlands who was killed on his bicycle. (Initial police reports said both passengers on the moped were killed.)

The driver then hit a taxi and crashed into a parked van. The suspect tried to run away but was overtaken and then tased by police. Acevedo says the two people were pronounced dead at the scene. He says the suspect will be charged with two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

St. David’s Episcopal Church, at the corner of Seventh Street and San Jacinto Boulevard, hosts two SXSW venues. It held a prayer service at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for the victims of the crash. 

Read below for updates as they came in the day of the crash.

Update: Police Formally ID Owens as Suspect; Release Names of 19 Victims

Austin police formally announced the arrest of Rashad Charjuan Owens in a press release this afternoon.

Police have also released a list of 19 victims' names and ages, which range from 17 to 39 years old. The names do not include the names of the deceased (an international SXSW visitor Dutch media say is Steven Craenmehr, and a still-unidentified Austin female). See the release here.

Austin police are calling the incident the 10th fatal traffic crash of the year, and the deaths the 12th and 13th traffic fatalities of 2014. 

Update: Three Victims in Critical Condition (4:02 p.m.)

University Medical Center Brackenridge now says three victims are listed in critical condition; that's one more that the two critical patients listed this morning. Two others are listed fair, and one is said to be in good condition. 

Update: Video of Hospital, Public Safety Briefings This Morning (3:29 p.m.)

Seton Healthcare Family, which oversees the hospital where several crash victims were taken (University Medical Center Brackenridge), has posted a video of this morning's update from Brackenridge, and the public safety briefing on Red River that followed afterward.

Speaking first is Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director for Brackenridge's emergency department. He is followed by Austin-Travis County EMS Chief of Staff James Shamard. Watch the video below.

Update: Follow the Conversation on Twitter with #SXSWCrash (2:15 p.m.)

The hashtag #SXSWCrash has sprung up to mark updates on this morning's events. See results for tweets tagged #SXSWCrash here.

Update: Blood Donors Needed After Crash (1:56 p.m.)

Area blood supplies took a hit last night as hospitals rushed to aid victims from the crash on Red River Street.

Cindy Rowe with the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas say they had enough blood supply to meet demand from local hospitals, but the event has put their already low supply critically low.

"We still weren’t up to par on our inventory for that blood type but now all blood types need to be replenished," she says.

You can donate at one of the center's three locations, and learn more by dialing 512-206-1266. The center says all blood types are needed, with Type O blood being the most critical.

Rowe adds that while people will want to immediately help out, blood does go bad – so a rush to donate this week isn’t the best way to help in the long term.

"That’s why we’re trying to stress the importance of donating throughout the year, to keep the blood supply stable at all times," she says.

Update: More Downtown Streets Closed (1:38 p.m.)

While portions of Red River Street are still closed, Austin Police have announced they are also closing Eighth and Ninth Streets, from the Interstate 35 frontage road to Neches Street, beginning at 5 p.m. tonight. Access along the frontage road will not be affected.

"The closure is expected to last through the evening to ensure public safety during large events in that area," police say in a press release.

The Mohawk nightclub on Red River has canceled its day shows; it says it is "working together [with] SXSW & city officials on next steps." Nearby club Cheer up Charlies has also canceled day events and says this evening's events "are still pending."

Update: ID of Suspect in SXSW Crash (12:49 p.m.)

Credit Bell County Sheriff's Office
A 2012 booking photo of Rashad Charjuan Owens, from a prior arrest in Killeen for criminal trespass.

KUT has confirmed 21 year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens is booked at Travis County Jail, charged with two counts of capital murder by terroristic threat. 

(Note: The Texas Penal Codehas a broad definition of terroristic threat. In this case, seemingly applicable definitions include threatening to use violence to "place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury" or "prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of  … [a] place of assembly, [or] place to which the public has access." Here, those terms seems to apply to the facts presented by police.)

Update: Identity of Deceased SXSW Visitor Revealed (11:47 a.m.)

A Dutch paper says Steven Craenmehr, 35, was one of the two people killed early this morning. Dutch News reports he worked as creative director for Amsterdam-based MassiveMusic. The MassiveMusic website confirms the news. It writes:

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.

Update: Questions About Police Chase, Barricades (11:47 a.m.)

This morning's crash suspect broke through a street barricade while trying to evade police.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says his department will review every part of this morning's incident, but that there’s only so much you can do to barricade a roadway. "An individual that’s willing to drive down a street, mowing people down, is either going to crash through a barricade or going around a barricade," he said.

Austin Police have also been questioned as to whether this was a police chase. Chief Acevedo said it all happened very quickly and really didn’t escalate into a full-scale pursuit.

"The officer initiated the actual pursuit as he turned here at Ninth and Red River," he said. "He broadcast that the suspect had driven through and struck a series of pedestrians, at which point he advised dispatch that he was going to engage in a pursuit. He then activated the sirens and started chasing the suspect, who after he crashed at 11th and Red River, immediately fled the scene on foot.”

Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo at the press conference this morning.

Update: Police Chief Applauds SXSW Decision to Carry On (11:39 a.m.)

At the press conference this morning, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said he encouraged SXSW organizers to continue the festival.

"We cannot allow one individual, who through his selfish acts … to ruin a wonderful event, a worldwide event, a celebration of life, a celebration of music."

Update: New Information on Victims at Press Conference; ID of Suspect Still Unreleased; SXSW Continues (11:20 a.m.)

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, Austin Fire Chief of Staff Harry Evans, EMS Chief of Staff James Shamard and SXSW managing director Roland Swenson are all on hand to speak to the press, from a set-up at Ninth and Red River Streets.  

Acevedo described two deceased victims with new data contrasting initial reports:

  • One Austin woman who was a passenger on a moped was killed. (Initial reports said a moped driver and passenger were killed.)
  • A male SXSW visitor from the Netherlands,was hit on his bicycle and killed.

SXSW's Swenson says his staff is "stunned and deeply moved" by last night's events, but adds "we feel that our best use is to continue to operate today."
He notes that two venues near the crash site are still assessing their options.

"The Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies are talking about how they should best proceed … But I think we all feel some obligation to the people that have traveled here from around the world."  

Acevedo confirmed that police were in pursuit of the suspect at the time of the incident, which was initiated after the suspect fled an officer at Ninth and Red River Streets.

The suspect's identity has not yet been released, as Acevedo said he is yet to have been charged. Acevedo described him as "a male black adult."

Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson speaking this morning.

Update: EMS Teams Drilled on Exact Scenario Just Last Week (10:23 a.m.)

At the Brackenridge press conference earlier this morning, Dr. Christopher Ziebell said that Austin-Travis County EMS responders drilled on a scenario like last night's incident as recently as a week ago.

"Just last week, [EMS] commanders had gone through some mass casualty incident training. And one of the scenarios they drilled on was a car going into a crowd," Ziebell said. "They had just a week ago practiced this exact scenario and debriefed on it and talked about how they could do it better and so on."

Ziebell says that training helped with response this morning. "I just can say enough about how absolutely perfect EMS response was to this event." 

Austin Police are holding a press conference at 10:30 a.m. 

Update: Official Word from South by Southwest (10:04 a.m.)

SXSW organizers just released a statement regarding last night's events:

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.

Update: 'Very Minor Injuries' for Suspect; 'Concern and Worry' Over Two Critical Victims (9:49 a.m.)

Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director for University Medical Center Brackenridge's Emergency Department, answered questions this morning.

Eight patients were transported to Brackenridge total: two in critical condition; three serious; one good; and two treated and released, including the suspect. Most patients were in their 20s, a mix of male and female, and locals and out-of-towners.

"The two most critical patients – I have a great deal of concern and worry," Ziebell said. "These are the worst kind of injuries we see."

As for the as-yet-unnamed driver, the suspect had "very minor injures," Ziebell said. He remained in police custody the entire time while being treated; he has since been released to police.

"It wasn't good for him or us to keep him in the environment any longer than necessary," Ziebell said. 

Update: More on EMS Response (9:35 a.m.)

Austin-Travis County EMS says they were able to respond to the crash quickly because they had units dedicated to South by Southwest stationed nearby.

"We had all of the critical patients transported from the scene in under 15 minutes," says EMS spokesperson Darren Noak. "All total patients were off the scene with 47 minutes to three area hospitals."

University Medical Center Brackenridge, located at 15th Street, is just a handful of blocks away from the scene. Officials at the hospital are holding a 9:30 a.m. press conference on the status of patients taken there.

Update: People Helping Each Other in the Aftermath (8:52 a.m.)

KUT Account Executive Ashley Park-Moody lives in the area of the crash – those are her photos in this post. She tells KUT she had just lain down for bed when she heard the collisions happen.

"The next thing I know, we hear one big crash … and three more crashes … one right after another. And I heard a lot of screaming," she says.

Park-Moody says she was impressed by the response of the people who were there.

"The crowd immediately came to those people that did get hit and run over," she says. "The South by Southwest staff was there readily. And what I found interesting and wonderful was that there were cyclists that had grabbed their bikes, and had lined up on the street to help block off people from coming on the street."

Credit Ashley Park for KUT
The scene on Red River Street after crowds were cleared.

Update: Statement from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell (6:54 a.m.)

The mayor's office released the following statement this morning:

I have been made aware of the tragic accident that occurred early this morning near 10th and Red River. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, as well as those being treated in area hospitals. First responders rushed to the scene to provide aid to the victims. The Austin Police department is investigating this matter as allegedly involving drunk driving. If this is true, this fact angers me.  Drunk driving is never acceptable, and can lead to deadly consequences.

Update: Red River Closed (2:46 a.m.):  

Austin Police say Red River Street from Ninth through 12th Streets will be closed during the morning commute.  Entrances to those streets from Interstate 35 will be closed. The frontage roads of I-35 will remain open.

Original post (2:25 a.m.): Video exists of the aftermath, showing bodies down along Red River. (As victims' families have not yet been notified, KUT is not sharing it at this time.) Eyewitnesses describe a car driving down Red River at a very fast speed; one witness describes the car as being pursued by police. 

Austin police ask videos and photos of the incident be turned over at the following number: (512) 974-5186. As the event happened at one of the U.S.'s premiere media events, many images are available on social media. Spin Magazine tweeted this photo from the balcony of the Mohawk: 

And this image has been shared over 1,000 times on Twitter:

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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