Deaths stun South by Southwest music festival

  • Article by: CHUCK LINDELL and JEREMY SCHWARTZ , Austin American-Statesman
  • Updated: March 13, 2014 - 8:38 PM

Driver crashed through a barricade and into a crowd.

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A patient was carried away after being struck by the vehicle.

Photo: Jay Janner • Austin American-Statesman via Associated Press,

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– Fleeing a routine early morning traffic stop in downtown Austin early Thursday, a suspected drunken driver crashed through a police barricade and sped down a street crowded with South by Southwest festivalgoers, killing two and leaving a horrific trail of injured pedestrians over two blocks before hitting a taxi and a parked van.

Twenty-three people were taken to hospitals, including two in critical condition with severe head injuries. Seven others also remained hospitalized Thursday.

The driver — identified as Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, of Killeen — was struck with a police Taser and arrested as he tried getting away on foot.

He was treated for minor injuries at University Medical Center Brackenridge and taken into police custody. Police said he will face two charges of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

“That vehicle was used as a weapon, and he will be charged with those crimes,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

One of the dead, a Dutch musician identified as Steven Craenmehr, was riding a bicycle when struck. The other person killed was an Austin woman on a moped.

Owens was booked into the Travis County jail at 5:44 a.m. No bail was set.

Police obtained a search warrant for blood samples to assess Owens’ blood alcohol level and are awaiting the results, Acevedo said.

In the hectic moments after the series of crashes, witnesses described a chaotic scene.

Scott Jakota, a musician from Indiana, said he was one of the first people hit. He said the driver “gunned” the car, “and I was thrown up in the sky.” He had a leg injury.

Ally Hulton, from Los Angeles, was smoking a cigarette on the balcony of her friend’s apartment when she saw a car drive down the street “at full speed.” “About 10 bodies went flying,” Hulton said.

“I think it’s going to be on everyone’s conscious here the next few days,” said Minneapolis pop-rocker Jeremy Messersmith, who was one of the first musicians to face an audience as SXSW attendees and Austinites woke up to the news.

He performed on a live public broadcast for Austin rock station KGSR-FM. “It was definitely a somber gig,” he said.

Staff writer Chris Riemenschneider contributed to this report.

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