Driver ID, other details emerge in SXSW tragedy

Credit: Marcus Moore / WFAA

Police tow the car of the suspect in the fatal crash at the SXSW festival in Austin on March 13, 2014.

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Staff and wire reports

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 13 at 2:06 PM

AUSTIN (AP) —  A man from the Netherlands riding a bicycle and a Central Texas woman on a moped were killed early Thursday when a suspected drunken driver fleeing police in a stolen car crashed through barricades at the South By Southwest event in Austin and slammed into a crowd of festivalgoers, police said.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said the motorist —  identified as 21-year-old Rashad Owens of Killeen —  also plowed into people gathered in front of an emptying nightclub around 12:30 a.m., injuring 23 people, five critically. He eventually crashed and tried to make a getaway on foot.

A police officer shocked Owens with a stun gun and took him into custody, Acevedo said at a news conference.

Owens faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

The car he was driving h ad been stolen in Killeen.

"This is an individual who showed no regard for the individuals that he plowed through," Acevedo said.  

The annual music, film and interactive conference draws tens of thousands to Austin each year, and the toll could have been much higher. The street had been packed with revelers just minutes earlier, but officials had cleared the area because it is a fire lane.

Scott Jakota, a musician from Indiana in town to play SXSW, told the Austin American-Statesman he was one of the first people hit outside The Mohawk. He said the driver "gunned" the car.

"I was thrown up in the sky," Jakota said.

Overlooking the street, 28-year-old Ally Hulton from Los Angeles, was on a balcony of her friend's apartment when she saw the car driving "at full speed" before hitting someone.

"About 10 bodies went flying," Hulton told the newspaper.

"We had a large crowd," Chief 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."

Acevedo asked witnesses and those who may have taken video to contact police at 512-974-5186 rather than post it on the Internet.

He said the names of the victims would be provided by the American Red Cross to family members later in the day. The number 800-928-4271 was set up to address those concerns.

MassiveMusic, a music agency, identified the bicycle rider who died as Steven Craenmehr, 35.

"During the eight years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, live and laughter," said a brief statement on the company's website.  "This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him."

Police said the incident unfolded as an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop the silver Toyota sedan at a gas station. The car took off, weaving between parked cars then driving at high speed the wrong way down a one-way street. Taking a right turn on Red River Street, the vehicle crashed through a barricade and narrowly missed a police officer.

The motorist struck some of his victims in front of The Mohawk, a club hosting Spin events during the five-day music conference. He then hit and killed the two people on the moped and hit a taxi cab before finally crashing.

Acevedo said there were no plans to change safety protocols at the festival due to the accident, and he endorsed plans for SXSW to maintain its original schedule.

"We cannot allow one individual's selfish acts to ruin a worldwide event; a celebration of life; a celebration of music," the police chief said. "If you were to cancel events, it would be a victory for evil."

"You cannot stop a person who rather than face drunk driving charges decides to speed at a high rate of speed, go around a uniformed officer forcing him to run out of the way, then at a high rate of speed show total disregard for the sanctity of human life," Acevedo added.

South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson said the festival would move forward with scheduled events.

"As much as we would all just like to go home, we feel that our best use is to continue to operate today," he said, adding that any schedule changes would be distributed on the event's website and Twitter feeds.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell released the following statement just after 4 a.m. Thursday:

"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."

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WFAA reporter Marcus Moore in Austin, KVUE, and Associated Press writers Chris Talbott and Will Weissert in Austin and Andale Gross in Chicago contributed to this report.


Follow @MarcusMooreWFAA for updates from Austin

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