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A Year After Fatal Crash, Austin Implements New SXSW Safety Measures

Ashley Park/KUT News
The aftermath of last year's crash during SXSW, which left four people dead.

It’s been almost a year since Rashad Owens drove his car into SXSW festivalgoers after a late-night show. Four people died, and another 23 were injured during the police chase of Owens on March 13 last year.

For this year's festival, the city of Austin and the Austin Police Department say they are not taking any chances.

There will be an enhanced police presence and better traffic management. But beyond that, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says the city will be partnering with state agencies to prevent a disaster from happening.

"The most important difference this year is that we are going to have TABC,” Acevedo says.

That's the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which will have 30 officers stationed around SXSW.

"That's exciting for me because we all know that alcohol, the abuse of alcohol, over-serving of alcohol, serving of alcohol to minors, is part of the problem, the challenge that we have during SXSW,” Acevedo says.

All venues have been warned. Some, like Michi Ramen on North Lamar, made all their employees re-take their TABC certification.

Charlotte Neitzel is a bartender at Michi Ramen.

"It lets you know all of the laws – how you and the minor can get in trouble. It also lets you know specifically how to deal with people who are being over-served and how to cut them off,” she says.

The City of Austin hopes these enhanced measures will be enough. But Malik Myers, a festivalgoer, says when there are thousands of people in one spot, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. When he's at South By, he tries to behave in a way that would make his mother proud.

"It's time to practice safety measures,” Myers says.

He can almost hear her saying those words. The City of Austin hopes others follow Myers' example.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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